Edmonton Elks’ president Victor Cui still loves interacting with fans a year after taking over the beleaguered organization but not even his constant optimism can spin the 2022 season as a financial positive.
“From the business side of it, it’s been a really tough year,” Cui admitted to 630CHED‘s Morley Scott. “Not only from our performance on the field, but our revenue and the challenges that we’ve faced — that all sports and all the teams in the league have faced coming out of post-COVID — of declining ticket sales.”
“This is a challenge that deeply impacts our business and the future of our organization. Trying to figure that out, that part has been really a stressful year.”
The Elks have struggled both on and off the field in recent years, finishing at the bottom of the West Division in each of the past two seasons. Cui was hired in January of 2022 to take the reins of an organization in turmoil, having just fired virtually their entire leadership group. Despite drawing praise across the country for his refreshing hands-on approach, the Edmonton native was not able to generate better results for his hometown franchise in his first season.
Under the guidance of head coach and general manager Chris Jones, the Elks finished 4-14 and failed to win at Commonwealth Stadium for a second year in a row — setting a new pro football record for the longest home losing streak in history. That led to a concerning number of empty seats in the iconic facility as an apathetic fan base continued to lose hope.
To his credit, Cui has continued to engage with those abandoning ship. Though he admits to occasionally becoming discouraged by the online negativity, those expressing their displeasure remained invested in the team and can be brought back into the fold.
“I think the anger that the fans feel is what I felt. It’s legitimate and understand, you want the team to perform so we have to do that. We didn’t do that last year,” he confessed. “If you’d asked me at this time last year, would we lose all 10 home games, I’d be like, ‘No way.’ It just doesn’t even seem possible but that’s what happened.”
The Elks recorded a net operating loss of $1.1 million in 2021 and another losing season is unlikely to see that number improve much when the publicly-owned team releases their latest financials in May. Improved performance from players and coaches will be critical to turning things around but other factors will play a role as well.
Recently returned from the CFL’s winter meetings in Kananaskis, Cui believes the league is making significant progress towards all clubs achieving business success.
“I think that over the year, I’ve seen significant growth about communication and openness to new initiatives and planning from all the teams that are being driven by the league,” he noted.
“I think the meetings were great. When you put that much brainpower [in one place], I look at that and I think every major decision-maker for the world of Canadian football is all together. If we want to do something, we have the ability and the resources to make that change and do it.”
Last year, much of the league’s offseason conversation centred on controversial changes to the game itself. That created a significant amount of backlash that persisted into the start of the season but the strategy around the board of governor’s table has since shifted.
“2022 was a year of a lot of flux, starting from the beginning of the year where we had a pending strike. It was almost crisis mode every single week,” Cui acknowledged. “This year, we’re able to, again, look at it as a league and say, ‘Well, what do we want to accomplish in 2023 and what can we work together collaboratively on to make an impact?'”
How that will manifest in Edmonton and across the league remains a secret, but the Elks’ president is excited about the possibilities. Despite high-profile struggles, fans could soon be attracted back to the stadium due to the conversations had in the mountains of Alberta.
“We’ve come up with a couple of really amazing new initiatives that I wish I could announce now because they’re so great, but this is one of the first times that every team got together and said, ‘This is something we’re going to work on together as a new initiative and launch it,'” Cui teased.
“It’s going to be great for fans, great for community. It’s scalable across the entire league.”