Last week, I wrote a commentary on a Leger Survey which examined “Canadian Sentiments Towards the CFL Rule Changes.” The response from fans throughout the CFL News Hub community was amazing. Fans throughout North America provided their own thoughts, while displaying a passion for the growth of the CFL and preserving its’ heritage.
Without being redundant about my frustrations about the decline of CFL football in Edmonton in 2021, I am now very optimistic about the future of the organization for 2022. With Chris Jones at the helm of the herd, Edmonton fans eagerly await the announcement of a new team President and CEO. The executive who is hired to this position will be responsible for the business side of the football team and they will report to the Board. The President’s main role is to market the team, make the team money, connect with the community, and to grow the fan base. The person in this role needs to have a vast experience in sports marketing, they must know the community, and they must be familiar with the traditions, needs, and culture of the league.
The Elks Need to Hire a Winner
The last President/CEO of the Elks was released from his role during the great purge in November of 2021. Chris Presson, although experienced in sports marketing in the US, did not appear ready to tackle the needs of the city and fans. Ticket sales declined, community involvement was invisible and the handling of the name change enraged fans throughout the process. The Edmonton Elks Board of Directors led by Chairman, Ian Murray, has been carefully guarded about the potential candidates for the vacant President position. TSN’s Paul Graham was thought to be an early front runner back in December, but as reported by long-time Edmonton Sun sports reporter, Terry Jones, it appears Graham will remain at TSN.
TSN insider, Farhan Lalji tweeted on 17 January 2022, that it appeared that Edmonton born, Victor Cui was a front runner for the job. Currently, Cui is the CEO International of ONE Championship (ONE) and the CEO of ONE Elite Agency. According to Cui’s LinkedIn profile, he “successfully helped to build Asia’s largest sports media property with one of the largest social media following in the world and currently valued at $1 billion.”
Victor Cui has also worked with Asia’s number one sports broadcaster – ESPN Star Sports (ESS). Before working with ESS, he was the Director of Communications for the PGA Tour – Golf Canada. He has had involvement with the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships, the Sydney Olympics, the PGA Tour Bell Canadian Open Championship, and many other world-wide sporting events. As fans speculate about his potential with the Elks, they wonder, does he know football? the CFL? Will he be present in Edmonton? I can tell you that in speaking to Mr. Cui, he has been living in Edmonton the past two years.
Some Tips for the New President and CEO
I am optimistic, that maybe this time the organization will listen to fan feedback and actually try to do new things to improve the culture and product of Elks football.
Edmonton fans support a winning and competitive team. Losing isn’t in our culture. The past several seasons have seen us produce mediocre rosters which seem to be based more on financial decisions rather than football decisions. Canadian talent does not seem to be a priority of investment in the past iterations of the teams that have been fielded.
There needs to be more investment in Canadian scouting. Tracking of Canadian talent needs to begin in the Canadian High School programs. Emerging talent at that level should be tracked and supported as those players move from high school, to the CJFL, CIS or NCAA programs. Scouts and player development personnel should be closely engaged in all football programs to better develop home grown talent that could one day be drafted into the Elks organization or signed as free agents. Create regional scouting programs across the country. This will require a financial commitment by the organization as it cannot be the job of one person. The long term investment for the team will pay off with the improvement of the on-field product. You got to spend money to make money.
It appears, that over the years, the role of the Alumni has greatly declined. Team alumni seems to have been transitioned out of the organizational activities and their history and contributions seems to have been minimized.
- Alumni pictures hanging outside of the stadium were replaced with Elks logos.
- Alumni appearances at games and events are not apparent.
- Alumni association used to hold wine tasting events at the stadium and connect with Season ticket holders. There is minimal Alumni representation on coaching and scouting staffs.
Start with issuing a formal apology to former Equipment Manager – Dwayne Mandrusiak who was released after 49 years of service to the organization. Bring him back or at least give him a proper farewell. Decorate the outside of the building with pictures of our alumni and current stars. Start hiring multi-generational alumni in marketing, coaching, scouting, and consultation roles throughout the organization, especially if those players still remain living in the greater Edmonton area. You got to spend money to make money.
My generation doesn’t seem to attend games anymore. Ian Murray was correct in his comments that we need to expand the demographics, but we still need to embrace and respect the older generations of fans. The team must be more engaged in the schools. Year-round player and team engagement needs to happen. This can be done virtually and in-person. The marquee players need to be visible and involved year-round.
- Free upper bowl season tickets for kids 12 and under.
- Discounted upper bowl season tickets for youth 13-18.
- Students attending post-secondary school should get half priced tickets.
- Free tickets for Labour Day rematch for all youth under 18.
- Get the players back into the schools and the community during the season and in the off-season. Marquee players need to be involved in this.
GAME DAY EXPERIENCE
Bringing in some unknown or retro band to do half-time makes the organization look very “mickey mouse,” Hanson? Really? I enjoyed previous concert series (Tom Cochrane, Brett Kissel to name a few), but bring in talent that all fans can identify with. In general terms, the in-game experience at Commonwealth is amature at best. The concessions at the stadium haven’t changed since I worked in them as a kid. Poor service and poor quality. Maybe the Elks need to a new vendor to professionally run the concessions.
- Expand tailgating outside of the stadium. I believe the current initiative has been excellent, but it needs to be expanded. Provide the residents around Commonwealth with free tickets. Provide them a tangible benefit for allowing tailgating to expand throughout the neighbourhood.
- Jackie Parker Lounge – Happy to see the Spirit of Edmonton taking over that room for the 2022 season. Now modernize the room…..put in some real TVs so you can actually see and hear the game.
- QB Club – do something with that space. I feel sorry for the people on the east side it’s a big empty room with a bar and some seating. Get TSN in there for half-time, everyone loves to see Matt Dunigan up close.
- Pre and Post game concerts. The Together Again concert series this past summer in Edmonton was very successful. Have a season long concert series, where fans can go before and after the game. Use the Field House (like many years ago after a game there was a big concert in there). Create a Grey Cup festival climate for every game.
- Half-time – Bring back the dogs.
- Let people bring in their backpacks. Sorry, but the mini plastic bag that holds nothing isn’t helpful for families.
- Want more fans? People like to be at events that are hard to get tickets. Lower all tickets prices and fill the stadium. Create a demand.
- Bring in local FOOD TRUCKS, MICRO BREWERIES, etc. Give them the spaces for free…..allow them to make the profit. If I knew I could go to the game and get some food truck food and some locally produced beer, I’d be there even earlier.
Change Takes Time
I fully understand that the organization cannot take hundreds of recommendations and magically implement them immediately. It is my hope that the new President/CEO will bring a vision to grow the Elks market. Edmonton used to have the CFL’s flagship franchise. With new ideas and a commitment to “spend money to make money,” the Elks can once again capture the hearts of of the young and the old.
The Name Change
Sorry to bring this up as my concluding commentary, but it needs to be said. I wasn’t a fan of changing the team name, but it happened for reasons that we may not all agree with. It’s time to get over it. The cries to change the name back is getting old, its unproductive. Remember the victories, the fun at the games, the interactions with the players, and the Grey Cups.