CFL won’t speculate on possible privatization of Edmonton Elks

Photo: Matt Smith/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie refused to weigh in on the possibility of private ownership for the Edmonton Elks during his State of League address on Tuesday.

“It’s not for me to speculate what direction the Elks might take,” Ambrosie told members of the media. “What I will say is whatever decisions and whatever future is going to be created for the Elks, those decisions will be made in Edmonton by Edmontonians, by the Elks and their board.”

In August, Elks’ board chairman Tom Richards denied speculation that the team was considering a move to private ownership due to financial difficulties, citing a reserve fund of $10 million. However, recent reports have indicated that a change in the ownership model remains a possibility.

The Elks mutually parted ways with president Victor Cui on August 15, under two years after the entrepreneur and former mixed martial arts promoter was hired to turn around the struggling organization. The team went 4-23 during his tenure and set a North American pro sports record by losing 22 consecutive home games. Edmonton posted a $3.3 million net operating loss in 2022 as attendance plummeted 9.1 percent. Average ticket sales rose 4.1 percent to 24,774 in 2023 but remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

Veteran CFL executive Rick LeLacheur came out of retirement to take over as the team’s interim president and is expected to remain with the club through next season. He previously served as the Edmonton Football Team’s president and CEO from 2002 to 2011, winning a pair of Grey Cups. LeLacheur later joined the B.C. Lions in the same capacity from 2018 to 2022 and is widely credited with spearheading the sale of the team from the estate of the late David Braley to current owner Amar Doman.

“I won’t speak for the Elks in terms of what led to the final decision that they made to make that change,” Ambrosie said regarding the departure of Cui.

“What I can say is that I was really pleased to see Rick LeLacheur come back into the fold. Rick’s got a really great history in Edmonton. He was part of a lot of very successful Edmonton football clubs over the years. He’s an Edmontonian and he knows the city really well. Ultimately, and I think appropriately so, the Elks board is going to rely heavily on Rick to get them going.”

The Elks, which were founded in 1949, are one of three remaining community-owned teams in the CFL, alongside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The B.C. Lions were privatized in 1989, while the Calgary Stampeders underwent the process in 1991.

Though Ambrosie would not express an official league stance on the subject of privatization in Edmonton, he shared optimism for the franchise as a former player.

“In terms of Edmonton itself, obviously for me, it’s very personal. I spent five of my nine seasons there. I know that city well. I know how passionate they are about their football club and that gives me a lot of optimism for the future because they’ve had such a big fan base there,” he said.

“Clearly, that fan base was very disappointed with their on-field performance and they made their displeasure known but it’s encouraging to see the success they had with the emergence of (Canadian quarterback) Tre Ford as a legitimate CFL star. I think the future’s bright in Edmonton, but clearly, like all of the teams, they’ve got work to do. I think they’ve got the right people in place to make that happen.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.