The Edmonton Elks hired Victor Cui as the organization’s new president and CEO on Tuesday and he plans to start his tenure by listening to what the club’s fans and stakeholders have to say.
“My role is to allocate the right resources in the right places so that the team can achieve success in every person’s respective area. A big part of that from starting out is to spend the time listening to everybody — stakeholders, alumni, the board, season ticket holders, fans — and understand the challenges that we’ve got and where they think we should improve,” Cui told Dustin Nielson on TSN 1260.
The Edmonton native and veteran sports executive understands and appreciates that the CFL is facing challenges coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league is still feeling the aftereffects of a cancelled 2020 season as well as a shortened 2021 campaign during which many teams faced limited attendance due to health protocols.
“There is work to be done. The challenge with this league is there’s so many different types of ownership. There’s three different types of ownership and how we run business from team to team is very different, so it has a unique challenge as a league. But that being said, the CFL is part of the cultural fabric of this country and it is part of unifying the country,” said Cui.
“We have an obligation as caretakers of this great legacy of the team to continually story-tell and retell the stories that made our history, that made this foundation that we’re standing on. But it’s not just the storytelling and being the old man in the room saying, ‘Let me tell you when, back then.’ That’s not what I’m really talking about. It’s people having an understanding of where we’ve come from and where we are going and getting them excited about that.”
Ian Murray, chair of the Edmonton’s board of directors, admitted in November that the demographics of the team’s fans are “brutal,” in that they are disproportionately old, male, and white. He suggested at the time that the club would need to win back “antagonized” fans in the short term while ensuring the fan base grows and becomes more diverse in the long term.
Cui recognizes the importance of improving fan demographics, but also believes that the challenges in Edmonton aren’t much different than those plaguing professional sports as a whole.
“I’m so lucky that my rolodex is other CEOs from great sports properties, so I’ve been fortunate to see the best practices and the challenges that those organizations have faced all around the world. Quite frankly, what we’re facing here is not that different than everybody else in the world. It’s really similar challenges,” he said.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up and think that we’re the only one with this problem but there’s problems that every sports property is trying to fix. I look at this as this fantastic opportunity where I can take my 25-plus years of a sports career and take that knowledge and bring it to an organization and a team that’s ready to innovate and hopefully make a difference.”
Cui is clearly excited about getting to work with the team he grew up supporting. He spoke at length regarding the club’s remarkable history and the importance of nurturing its relationship with the fans, waxing poetic about what it means to attend a game at Commonwealth Stadium.
“Sports is an emotional experience. We have to make sure that we connect emotionally with everybody. It doesn’t matter what age demographic you are. Unless you are passionate about something, you won’t follow it. That starts with us building heroes, it starts with us taking care of our fans, it starts with us listening to our season ticket holders who have defied logic over the years and regardless of how we perform on the field, have continued to be loyal to the organization and we have to listen to them,” said Cui.
“A magical transformation where you walk into the stadium wearing an Edmonton Elks jersey and it doesn’t matter what your race, religion, colour, background, age, your title, you become part of the Elks family and you stand in the audience shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger yelling your heart out in this insane belief that our cheering together — our standing up and doing the wave — is going to impact magically the performance on the field. And we cling to that and that’s what happens through the power of sports.”