By Shawn Halfhill
While most people in the Cleveland area know about the Cleveland Gladiators, most probably don’t know Ivan Soto. Soto was on the front lines this past season fighting for players rights and getting a new CBA in the AFL. My self like most fans, was angry when Cleveland lost to Pittsburgh 2-0 because the team had a one team/one game Strike which turned fans away at the door but after talking with players and ultimately Soto himself, I understood why they did what they did. Ohio Arena Football Report was fortunate enough to get a Q&A with Soto this past week and here’s how it went down.
OAFR-How did you come about being the Exec. Dir of the AFLPU?
Soto- I had a mutual connection with some players and an AFLPU Executive. We all had a mutual goal of getting better playing conditions and a reasonable compensation structure through obtaining a CBA. I was voted in as interim Exec Dir and the rest is as they say “history”.
-During all the Strike talk there was an article out of AZ. where a rattlers player said he hadnt met you or heard of you prior to the Season,why would some players know you and some wouldnt?
-There was a lot that was going on and our organization did not have a CBA or funds to operate so many players had not met many of their executives during that time. I was using my own personal fund…
s to operate the Union as were other executives so we had to manage our expenses accordingly. I don’t know of any player that had not heard of the Union or myself although the teams were doing a good job of keeping the players in the dark about the AFLPU and we did not have access to them as is now required by the CBA. Some players chose not to get involved as they had seen how other players were treated by being a part of the Union or having a voice so we understood that it would be challenging to get through to every single player. We had asked for a player contact list from the League early on and we were not provided it, however as we moved forward many players found us. Keep in mind that this was our first CBA since returning and we didn’t even have a current website as well as the entire AFLPU was being operated by one Executive on a shoestring in the beginning.
OAFR-Your Thoughts on the first NFL Network game between Pittsburgh and Orlando?
Soto-Unfortunately, the teams made decisions that were a negative impact to the players, fans and league. We made many efforts to get a reasonable CBA and it is every players right to talk about going on strike or going on strike as protected under the NLRA. Just like many other situations in Professional Sports, the disagreements between the players union and the leagues can be incredibly challenging but the process has to take place as can be evidenced by other organizations like the NHL, NFL, MLS, NFL Refs etc.etc..
-With Cleveland,why just a one team/one game strike and why do it on what would have been another NFL network game?
-We think that this situation speaks for itself. The one game stoppage was the main way for the Players to protest the week 1 actions and it immediately brought us and the league together which led to the CBA and Global Settlement provided to us by the League. There were o…
ther teams ready and on board if needed for work stoppages but we felt that we would try and keep the disruption to the Fans as minimal as possible. Unfortunately, we had tried and had no progress the week before and Cleveland was a strong team that to this day is one of our strongest group of Players. The week 1 game was network game too so we felt that the League didn’t have much value in the network game as it was their decision to illegally fire the teams and use replacement players that turned that game into a very poor display of professionalism. We have the best Players in the Nation and that was proven in week one. You can’t just bring in replacement players and expect to put the same product on the field that the fans are accustomed to. In the end all of us know that this was the most effective use of our leverage without completely disrupting the entire League which could have had much larger implications.
OAFR-The “year of the fan” a flop for many fans of the AFL,even with a the new CBA in place, do you feel the actions leading up to it hurt the leagues fan base?
Soto-As I said earlier, a lot happens and none of it is scripted so we have to do what is right for the players. We love our fans but we represent the players and have to make decisions for the long term for them, regrettably that someti…
mes can create an unavoidable situation for our fans. Fans were disappointed but true fans respect that Players are people too, they aren’t circus show chattel. They have to be treated with respect and valued as they are the product on the field and without Players there will be no Arena Football. If fans want the best players to continue to play Arena football they can’t expect for them to play for $400 and some pizza while not having medical and job protections. Many of these young players give up a lot of their time and their own personal money to play Arena Football. I know it may seem like the “Year of the Fan” was a flop but in our opinion that couldn’t be further from the truth. True fans know, especially Cleveland Fans, that getting the best players and having the best working environment leads to great fan experiences. Being from the Cleveland area myself makes it even more painful that the fans had to suffer through the work stoppage but I have been through a lot of issues with many other Cleveland teams that were much worse than a one game work stoppage, try living through the moving of the Cleveland Browns
to Baltimore by the late Art Modell. The fans are resilient and we think that it really will go down as the “Year of the Fan” because we are convinced that the AFL and the AFLPU have Cleveland to thank for providing us both the opportunity to obtain a CBA that will ensure that our game will have the best chance of success over the next 5 years. Having a stable work environment that is safer while allowing players to earn a rate of compensation that provides them the opportunity to play Arena Football without losing money over the course of a season will ensure that we get some great players and have some exciting games moving forward and this is the best way to thank the fans, by providing them with a great viable product on the field that they can be proud to call “their team”.
OAFR-For anyone that hasnt read or seen the details of the new CBA, can you give us a quick run down on what it means for the players?
Soto-The CBA provides many benefits to the Players. Here is a list of a few items that we were able to secure for the Players:
1. Union recognition and access to players
2. Long term contracts – 1, 2 and 3 yr contracts for Players may be sign
3. Medical Protections and a Grievance procedure
4. Signing Bonuses for Players for longer contracts and a bonus for Rookies that are retained by their team for the 2nd year of their Rookie contract
5. Travel and Traded player expense compensation. No longer do players have to pay to travel and when they are traded to a team
6. Restricted ground travel. No longer will players be subjected to grueling long bus rides.
7. Licensing rights – we secured licensing rights for the sale of player merchandise etc
8. Agent Certification to allow players to be properly represented during contract negotiations with the team
9. Increased compensation with the base pay for Veteran Players increasing by 107% before any bonuses.
10. Players now have a full CBA with representation by the AFLPU so they can focus on football while we focus on their business of football.
OAFR-This is pretty simple,whats your message to the fans of Cleveland and to anyone thats a fan of arena style football?
Soto-Like I stated earlier, I am from the Cleveland area. I have been a fan of Cleveland teams since I was a kid and …
I remember the Cardiac Kids, Red Right 88, The Fumble, The Cleveland Force (soccer for the young fans that don’t recall), The Tribe
almost making it in the 90’s, The Cavs and how MJ was always one step ahead of us, The Lebron James era as well as many other Cleveland area teams and I even remember the old Richfield Coliseum where some sporting events were played. I can recall very vividly how painful it was to go through some of those previous years but in the end no matter what I always came back to cheer for “my team”. I knew that the Players really just wanted to play the game but that they did have to treat it like a business because they too have families and children/loved ones that need their love and support. Their Families and children depend on them for their every day needs and sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that. Fans and Players have a relationship that is special and unique because they create and have so many memories together. Watching your favorite player come through in the clutch and win a game gives us all a way to forget about our daily troubles for a minute or two and enjoy the feeling of being in the moment. The Players will be back on that field again next season, giving 110% so that they can give the fans those memories that they all want. If you’re a fan that has not been to an Arena Football game we encourage you to go to a game. Arena Football is a very fast paced exciting brand of football where the fans can get up close to the players and the game and interact with them like no other league. The games are very affordable for a family and the games are usually centered around some fun fan interactions that aren’t found in other sports leagues. I look forward to seeing the true fans and some new fans in Cleveland next season which I suspect will be one of the most exciting seasons of Arena Football in 25 years!Thank you!
Ivan F. Soto
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