Coming back to Commonwealth Stadium has been a welcome challenge for Victor Cui.
While he’s moved from the Knothole Gang to the executive office, Cui takes over a community-owned football team that had hit all-time lows in fan interest and attendance in the 2021 CFL season.
'"We have had a lot of fires to put out on and off the field. This is not another business-as-usual year," said the new president and CEO of the Edmonton Elks.
Cui, who first attended football games as a teenager in the 1980s, left Edmonton two decades ago to work in international sports marketing. Returning to the city after a successful 12-year run as CEO of Asia’s largest sports media company, Cui says it's actually his connection to Alberta's capital city and the football team that has been resonating with fans.
"The biggest surprise for me was how excited fans were that I was from Edmonton. When I talk to a fan and they make a reference to Edmonton 30 years ago, I know what they are talking about. That makes a difference for people," said Cui, an Archbishop O'Leary grad, who once received an Eskimos-sponsored scholarship to the U of A.
Cui has noticed it everywhere, even at the gym.
"A guy I hadn’t seen since Grade 7 approached me and said he wanted to thank me for working hard. He said he had not been at a game for years but now he said he was buying season tickets," Cui said.
At least one other season ticket holder echoed that sentiment.
“I was done at the end of last year. We were not renewing but then they hired Cui. That made the difference," said Karl Nord, who has held season tickets to the local CFL club for 30 years. "The biggest complaint as fans is we felt disrespected."
“I like what I read, and heard what Victor Cui was saying. He gets it. He knows the community needs to be involved.”
As well, Nord says the moves by the Elks to bring in a locally-connected CEO along with the return of Chris Jones as general manager and coach trumped concerns his football buddies had about the team’s name change.
“Most of my friends haven’t gotten over the name change, but we like what’s happening now. We’ve already renewed our season tickets,” said Nord.
Cui says fans tell him they are still upset with the switch from Eskimos to Elks. (The team, founded in 1949, changed its name because Eskimos is considered a racial slur against Inuit people.)
He says the change was necessary, adding “We’re at the stage in our world where our children are challenging us always to be inclusive and considerate. We have to realize that and we have to listen."
However, Cui did say Eskimos is not a taboo word for the CFL club. "Eskimos is used in the historical reference. It's part of our history and I love and respect the history of our team."
Going forward, the Elks boss says listening to fans is crucial as the green-and-gold work to “become a successful sports club.”
To that end, the team has renewed its official broadcasting agreement, and Morley Scott and Dave Campbell return for their 12th season with the team, as play-by-play announcer and analyst, respectively. CHED’s coverage starts with the Elks’ pre-season opener against Winnipeg on May 27. But importantly, Cui says social media will play a crucial role going forward.
"It's a best-case scenario. Fans can give you feedback immediately. People have a right to complain and I want to hear from them, " said Cui, who has 1.4 million Facebook friends and 200,000 Twitter followers.
The Elks regular season home opener is on June 18 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Reacting to ticket sales so far, Cui said, "I'm very sure that game is going to be sold out.”
See goelks.com for schedule and ticket information.