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Edmonton Elks forge ambitious future with multilingual broadcasts

Victor Cui isn’t resting on his laurels.

Victor Cui isn’t resting on his laurels.

On Saturday night, the Edmonton Elks’ home game versus the B.C. Lions will be the first pro football contest to be broadcast in Punjabi. This achievement follows the franchise’s earlier milestone in 2022 when they had a regular-season matchup carried in Cree.

And already Cui, the Elks affable president/CEO, is looking to broadcast Edmonton games in other languages.

“Chinese, as an example, is one of them,” Cui said during a telephone interview. “Last year, we started even looking at a broadcast in Ukrainian because we wanted a way to welcome all the new Ukrainians that we’re bringing into our community.

“That one was a little bit (more difficult) because there’s not enough experience to pull it off.”

And that’s the key, Cui said.

“The ability to story-tell in sports comes with experience,” he said. “That really is a key criteria, finding somebody who can be comfortable enough with that and have enough experience to be calling a live game.

“When it comes to live sports, you have to think on your feet and have experience doing that.”

On Saturday night, broadcasters Harpreet Pandher and Taqdeer Thindal, who work on Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi crew, will call the Edmonton-B. C. game. The Elks partnered with My Radio 580 AM, an Alberta multilingual radio station, to carry the contest across the province and provide it nationally via its online player.

What’s more, Sher-E-Punjab Radio AM 600, of Richmond, B.C., will also carry the Elks-Lions broadcast.

“With a Punjabi population of over 300,000 in British Columbia, this historic broadcast enables a whole new segment of football fans to enjoy our great game,” Lions president Duane Vienneau said in a statement. “We commend Victor Cui and the Elks for making this happen.”

Canada is home to a Punjabi population of roughly one million people, according to the 2021 Canadian census. Alberta has the third-largest Punjabi population among Canadian provinces at 126,385 people, according to the census.

B.C. has the second-largest community at 315,000 people.

In 2022, the Elks partnered with Windspeaker Media to broadcast a regular-season game versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Cree.

“That was so well received that it was kind of like a proof of concept for us in a way,” Cui said. “In that process we also said, ‘What other languages should we do?’

“This isn’t the first time that sports has been done in multiple languages, this is what everyone around the world does. It’s just that we’ve been a little bit behind it in Canada in some of our sports. But if you look at the NHL, it has been doing a Punjabi broadcast for some time now and that’s a great example for us to learn from and improve upon.”

Cui expects there will be another broadcast of an Edmonton contest in Cree sometime and in a perfect world he’d like to see Elks games carried in multiple languages.

“I would love to get to the point where we could do every home game in multiple languages but each one of these is a testing,” he said. “I think you have to give it time for the new concepts to breathe and let other people embrace it.”

Cui is hopeful that making Canadian professional football more readily available to different cultures will only serve to grow the game.

“One of the initiatives we’ve got to be focused on is how do we introduce the sport to new fans,” he said. “How do we make it as non-intimidating for new fans to enjoy and learn about this experience?

“And it’s not just a cultural thing, it could be a gender thing, an age thing. There’s always different things that make it intimidating if you’re not a fan. We want to get rid of those barriers.”