‘Everyone’s gonna get a fair look’: 20 suitors signed to NDAs in Elks’ ownership hunt

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

The Edmonton Elks have no shortage of potential owners lining up to purchase their football club, but don’t expect a frontrunner to emerge anytime soon.

“We’re not quite that far along in the process,” chairman of the board Tom Richards told 630 CHED this week. “Right now, we’re just at the point of identifying anybody that wants to put their hand up, make sure the hand’s up and added to the list. We’ve got 20 different people or parties that have signed non-disclosure agreements, so there’s a lot of interest.”

The Elks are set to celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2024, a milestone that might also mark the end of the franchise’s community ownership model. A special committee was formed in October to formally review the club’s ownership structure, with the sale of the team to a private entity viewed as a necessity after several difficult years financially.

Edmonton posted a $3.3 million net operating loss in 2022 as attendance plummeted 9.1 percent. Ticket sales rose 4.1 percent in 2023 according to published figures but remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Financial reports from this past season have not yet been made public, though the team is expected to post another significant loss.

Richards, who serves on the special committee alongside team president Rick LeLacheur and four current or former board members, described the announcement of an ownership search as a “personal low” for him. However, his mood has shifted as the number of suitors has risen, thanks in part to the involvement of the CFL’s investment banking partner, Park Lane.

“We’ve never had to face these kinds of questions before but we’re into it, we’re not shying away from it,” he said. “We’ve got a good organization, a great board of directors. They’ve got our special committee struck and we’ve got a great partner in Park Lane helping us get everybody organized that has put their hand up to take it to that next stage of already figuring out who’s gonna wind up taking over the ownership of the club.”

Park Lane recently ran point on the ownership search for the Montreal Alouettes, helping to salvage the franchise from financial turmoil in the wake of ceded ownership. A deal was struck with Quebec billionaire Pierre-Karl Peladeau in under a month, catapulting the team to a Grey Cup championship in his first season in control.

The Elks hope a new owner can have a similar effect on their success, though the timeline is much less urgent. Richards would not commit to a firm deadline but hopes to have clarity for fans by the time the anniversary festivities kick off with a gala dinner on June 6.

“That would be my goal. Wouldn’t it be nice to tidy it all up and even at the dinner to be able to make that announcement?” he said, before providing an important caveat.

“It’s a blessing that we have that many organizations interested but it’s gonna slow it down a little bit. Everybody’s gonna get a fair shot at this, everyone’s gonna get a fair look. We are going to request a lot of information, as I’m sure they will request a bunch of information from us. It’s a process.”

Those logistical challenges are welcome when they are accompanied by the level of opportunity that the current situation provides. With 20 groups already signing paperwork, Richards is confident that the Elks will end up in the best possible hands.

“I’m very optimistic that we’re gonna be able to find the right organization to take over with that many people putting their hand up,” he said. “We’re gonna be able to make sure we can sit down and make the right decision. It might prove to be a little longer, just because we have so many interested parties, but that’s fine. That’s a luxury for us now.”

The Elks will open their 2024 regular season by hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, June 8.