Elks’ CEO focused on improving attendance, knows club has ‘got to deliver’ amid epic losing streak

Edmonton Elks CEO Victor Cui speaks to reporters at Commonwealth Stadium on July 25, 2023. Global News

The current 20-game home losing streak the Edmonton Elks are mired in began more than two years before Victor Cui took over as the CFL club’s president and CEO, but the football executive remains optimistic as the team hopes to avoid setting an embarassing new North American major professional sports league record.

“We have fans that are upset with us because they want us to do better,” he told reporters as Elks players practised at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Tuesday.

“We want to do better. I expect us to do better. The coaches expect us to do better. This is what we’ve got to deliver.”

The Elks’ last home game on July 13 ended in a 37-29 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team playing without injured star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. The loss tied a record for most consecutive home losses in a North American major professional sports league: Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Browns lost 20 straight games in 1953 before becoming the Baltimore Orioles the following season.

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The Elks, who have yet to win a game in any stadium this year, host the B.C. Lions, a team that has only lost once this season, at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. A win would end a stretch of futility at home that began Oct. 12, 2019, and would go a long way toward alleviating some of the misery experienced by long-suffering Elks fans eager to watch their team win a game in Alberta’s capital again.

“It is without a doubt difficult,” Cui said. “But we have been very lucky. We’ve got great loyal season (ticketholders).

“And I say this all the time: as long as people are upset with us, it means we can convert them, it means they still care.”

Elks head coach Chris Jones, who guided the club to its last Grey Cup championship in 2015 in a previous stint with Edmonton, is hoping to take advantage of the nine days the team has to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Lions.

B.C. Lions’ James Butler (24) is tackled by the Edmonton Elks during first half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday October 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

The Elks’ last game was a 28-14 loss to the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg. After that game, some of the Elks suggested the team is getting closer to turning a corner when it comes to their inability to win so far this season.

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“I thought we played a better game than what we’ve shown in the past,” said Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

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“It’s still not the result that we want, by any means … but we feel like we have the guys in our locker-room to do special things and we’re still not there yet.”

Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna said he and his teammates need to focus on playing “a complete game.”

“There were a couple of plays out there defensively that we’d like to have back, but we’ve just got to go look at the film, correct that and make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes going forward,” he said after the loss to the Bombers.

“Every one of our games this year, we’ve been in the game at halftime. It really seems like the end of the third quarter, start of the fourth quarter that games go bad, so we’ve just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and fix that.”

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Cui became the Elks’ chief executive in January 2022. The ongoing losing streak at home, along with the fact the CFL cancelled the entire 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been cited by some as significant contributing factors when it comes to the Elks inability to match attendance figures in previous years. But Cui suggested there are other factors the club has some control over to address the issue, one he said “is not something that has snuck up on us.”

“Even before I took this job I was concerned with our attendance levels,” he said, adding attendance has been “deteriorating for a decade.”

“It’s not anything new.”

Cui said he remains focused on helping the Elks win over new fans — a challenge he says needs to be addressed with a unique approach for different people. He said he recognizes that football is a more complicated sport to understand than a sport like soccer.

“Our sport has so many complexities to it, you really need someone to explain it to you … (so that) people can fall in love with the sport,” he said.

One demographic Cui said the Elks is reaching out to is people for whom English is not their first language.

Earlier this week, the Elks announced Saturday’s game against the Lions will be the first professional football game broadcast in Punjabi. The club has partnered with Edmonton multilingual radio station My Radio 580 AM to broadcast the CFL game across Alberta on radio and throughout Canada through the station’s online player.

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Alberta has the third-largest Punjabi population among Canadian provinces at 126,385 people, according to the census.

“I wish we had done it earlier,” Cui said. “If you look at the NHL, they’ve had a Punjabi broadcast for over a decade and it’s been phenomenal for them.

“I hope that we’re laying the foundation for some future growth.”

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He noted the Punjabi broadcast will be especially helpful for people who speak the language and are not very familiar with football.

“If English is their second language, it’s easier to understand the sport if you hear it in your native language,” he said.

“Every day we have to figure out how do we get people excited about the sport without alienating our hardcore fans … Let’s make it more accessible.”

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–With files from Shane Jones, The Canadian Press

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