Winning isn’t everything: Elks board chair Ian Murray predicts ‘five or more’ years to fix fan issues, regardless of Chris Jones’ performance

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

With the hiring of Chris Jones as head coach and general manager, the Edmonton Elks finally have the man they believe can restore their franchise back to its former glory. Unfortunately, just racking up wins may not be enough to fix all the team’s issues.

That’s according to the chair of the Edmonton Football Team board of directors Ian Murray, who in praising his new hire on TSN 1260 in Edmonton admitted that changing the team’s on-the-field fortunes won’t be enough to turn around the business side of the operation.

“It’s probably the largest factor, but it’s not the only factor. We had several reasons why we had a disenchanted fan base and where we have business issues to fix,” Murray acknowledged.

“We need to improve the game-day experience, make everything more interesting. We also have to improve the customer service. If somebody’s having trouble with electronic ticketing, there’s somebody to help them in a timely manner.”

The Elks saw their traditionally stand-out attendance numbers dwindle in 2021 as the fan base showed their displeasure over the product on the field and the dealings of since-fired GM Brock Sunderland and head coach Jaime Elizondo. Yet Murray has been clear that the issues went beyond one bad season, raising red flags about one of the CFL’s most stable franchises.

With the firing of the old regime and the hiring of Jones, Murray believes he has rectified many short-term problems, but not the long-term ones.

“I think we can fix [the on-field product] fairly quickly. I’m not going to promise a specific timing and I think it’d be a stretch to expect us to win the cup in the first year, but I do expect material improvement on the field right away. I also expect big improvement for the fan experience and getting the attendance numbers up pretty quickly,” Murray explained, before revealing the catch.

“I don’t think it’s going to be solved overnight. As we spoke about previous, there’s some immediate short-term problems that are the priority to ensure the existing fan base has their concerns addressed and then we do have a longer term issue about growing the fan base. That’s going to take five years to gradually fix it — five or more, that’s not an immediate thing at all.”

Murray recently came under fire for comments saying that the Elks fan base is too “old, white and male,” pointing out that the lack of diversity was stunting the organization’s growth. He was forced to apologize publicly and clarify that statement, something that he is also doing privately.

“I’ve been phoning all those people that have complained. I’m up to about 30 of these calls so far, and we also have a whole complaint process to hear people and then get these folks involved in focus groups and to put all of the complaints on the table,” he revealed.

“When you talk to people, they’re mad about one thing, but very quickly they segue into being concerned about the name change, being concerned about bad performance on the field, the customer service issues. It’s rarely one thing that’s really got them upset — it’s usually several.”

All of those issues will have to be addressed to get the Elks back to model franchise status, but if a five-year turnaround seems daunting, Jones will be there to make the wait a little easier on both fans and management.

“There are other things other than just winning,” Murray stressed. “But I’ll tell you people are in a much better mood when you’re winning.”