The Edmonton Elks are on a mission to reconnect with their local community and it all starts by developing closer ties with the University of Alberta.
The team announced on Tuesday that they had partnered with the Golden Bears football team to host a showcase game double-header at Commonwealth Stadium next season, with U of A kicking off at 12:00 p.m. MT on Saturday, October 15, before the Elks take on the Argos at 5:00 p.m. MT.
The news was met by cheers from supporters of both pro and amateur football across the country, but the Elks new president and CEO Victor Cui could hardly believe something similar hadn’t been done before.
“That was one of the first things, on day one of the job, I said to the team,” Cui said on The Dave Jamieson Show this week. “How do we do something with U of A, with my alma mater?”
The event, which marks the first time in more than 20 years that the Golden Bears have played at Commonwealth and the only time they’ve participated in a CFL double-header, will be a part of a day of celebration for amateur football in the province. As a U of A alumnus and a beneficiary of the Elks’ amateur athletic outreach growing up, Cui believes the organization has a duty to elevate their collegiate counterpart.
“I know how much student government and university and sports impacted positively my life. All the guys and girls and people that play on sport teams at the university level will become leaders in our community and us, as the professional team in this city, have an obligation to help support those leaders, help them grow, nurture their opportunities and their memories as they make their impact in the community, just like I’m trying to make the impact in the community,” Cui said.
“Giving a chance for them to come here and play a game before us, it’s a no brainer. I hope to make this something that we institutionalize and every year on year continues to grow as its own kind of standalone event.”
Events like this one are just part of his broader vision for the Elks in the community, something he is already visibly enacting. Active on social media, Cui believes he gets as many as 500 messages from fans a day, not including the personal outreach he does with season ticket holders and those who have taken the time to write in complaints.
Less than a month into his tenure, he can’t fix all their problems instantly, but most of the time having a honest, thoughtful and considerate dialogue is all that is needed to patch years of neglect.
“This is a business and it has business objectives, but we’re not a major global corporation or an oil and gas company,” Cui stressed. “We are a community-owned sports organization that is fan first and everything we do has to reflect that.”
During the Elks’ previous regime, some of those principles had been forgotten. Now a buzz is building again, as old wounds heal.
“The magic of having a home team is that every year it fills you with the new hope,” Cui said. “That’s what the new season brings. We can wipe the slate clean and let’s go again.”