In the midst of a 13-game losing streak, and a 22-game home losing skid, the Edmonton Elks announced Tuesday that Victor Cui is out as the team’s president and chief executive officer.
Tom Richards, the chair of the team’s board of directors, said discussions went on for several weeks about Cui’s future with the club. After looking at the team’s “long-term future,” the board and Cui agreed that he should resign from his position.
But while Cui is out, Richards said the board fully backs general manager and head coach Chris Jones, even though the team is 4-23 since he was signed to a four-year deal in December of 2021. The decision to hire Jones was made by the board, and predated Cui’s arrival as president of the team by one month.
When asked about Jones’s standing as GM and coach, Richards had a simple answer: “Solid.”
He said the board understands that Jones has a young team on his hands.
“There are great signs things are improving on the field,” said Richards.
The Elks fell to 0-9 on the season last Thursday, after they blew a 22-point lead to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Jones said he needs to take his share of the blame for where the Elks are at this season.
“Victor is a great guy,” he said. “He had some really good ideas, and he knows I wish him nothing but the best.
“They brought me here to one thing, and that’s to coach football. We’re not sitting in a very good situation. I’ve not upheld my end of the bargain right now. I need to fix what’s going on.
“We’ve played some good football sporadically, but we’ve got to learn to play four quarters of disciplined, hard-nosed football.”
In the meantime, the franchise’s day-to-day business operations will be handled by existing business operations senior leadership. Richards said the hopes are that an interim CEO will be hired within two to three weeks. That hire will be an external one. The search for a permanent CEO begins after that.
“As a board, we understand the importance of finding the right person to lead our organization. The importance of leading the organization back to prominence, it’s a must.”
Edmonton averaged 23,787 spectators last year, a far cry from the league-high 31,517 fans it averaged in 2015. The Elks drew an announced crowd of 19,921 to their 38-29 home loss to Winnipeg last week.
Richards pleaded with fans to be patient.
“We ask that you stick with us as we work towards a return to our winning ways. This is Edmonton’s team and we are committed to making it an organization that we can be proud of on and off the field.”
Cui was hired on January 25, 2022. He grew up in Edmonton as a die-hard fan of the club before moving to Asia. He co-founded ONE Championship, an internationally followed mixed martial arts organization based out of Singapore.
Richards said the board knew when it hired Cui that it was an outside-of-the-box move.
“He was a new guy with new ideas and we were looking forward to something refreshing and new.
Cui had served as Edmonton’s top executive since January 2022, replacing Chris Presson, who was fired following the ‘21 season.
Cui called his decision to join the franchise, ‘a dream come true.’
He worked to build bridges with Indigenous communities. The team wore a special helmet in last Thursday’s loss to Winnipeg that showed off Indigenous art.
He simplified the ticketing process, so there weren’t more than a dozen price points for potential ticket buyers. He created several hundred “guaranteed win” tickets, where fans paid for one game, and could keep redeeming those tickets till the Elks won.
Cui negotiated a five-year lease extension at Commonwealth Stadium with the City of Edmonton in Feb. 2023. He tried to get local distillers into the building, despite the city’s agreements with large international beverage companies to hold pouring rights.
And Cui worked with the city and its tourism arm, Explore Edmonton, to help bring non-football events to Commonwealth Stadium, such as this past winter’s World Cup Big Air snowboard competition.
On July 29, the Elks’ 27-0 loss to the B.C. Lions was broadcast in Punjabi, a first in professional football. Last season, Edmonton achieved another franchise first when it had a regular-season matchup carried in Cree.
But the relationship between Cui and the board soured.
“We considered a lot of different things that were happening with the team,” said Richards. “It was important we make a decision as a board for the long-term success of our club.”
Edmonton posted an operating loss of $3.3 million in 2022, making it four straight years in which the community-owned club has run at a deficit. Richards said the club is still on stable financial ground, with more than $10 million in reserve.
Edmonton visits the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-5) on Thursday night.