The Victor Cui era officially got underway Tuesday, as he was officially announced as the new president and CEO of the Edmonton Elks, and did the requisite gifting of the home team’s jersey to Mayor Amarjeet Sohi at City Hall.
Cui was born in Edmonton, moved with his family to Africa when he was a child, then returned to this city when he was 12. He’s been a rabid Edmonton football fan since he was a kid. He’s been the CEO of One Championship for a decade — that’s the Singapore-based mixed-martial-arts fight promoter and electronic platform that broadcasts bouts to more than 150 countries. But, despite his success in Asia, the lure of coming home — after he was identified by a headhunter working for the football team — was too much to ignore.
He has a big job ahead of him. The new coach, Chris Jones, has to clean up the mess on the field, as the team finished well out of the Canadian Football League’s playoff race in 2021 and didn’t win a home game. Cui’s job is far more difficult – he was to win back the hearts and minds of Edmontonians who used to be Canadian football fans, and also find a way for the team to create a younger, more diverse fan base. Go to an Elks game, and it feels a bit like going to a Rush show later in the band’s career — yes, there are passionate fans, but it’s fortysomething-plus, male and white.
That being said, Cui told the press the fact the Elks hired an Asian-Canadian is too easy an angle to take.
“This opportunity was presented to me not because I’m Edmontonian, although I’m extremely proud to be Edmontonian and I will scream everywhere in the world that this is the best city in the world to live in,” he said. “I had this opportunity not because I’m Asian-Canadian, although I am very proud of my Asian heritage and I’m very, very proud of my Canadian cultural heritage. This opportunity has come about because I love sports and I am so fortunate to have a global skill set and a passion for this organization that lined up and have given me an opportunity to do this.”
Cui said he will spend time listening to fans and alumni. About how the Elks can rebuild their standing in the city.
“We have a lot of challenges. Quite frankly. today, I can’t tell you where we’ll start.”
Near the end of his press availability, I asked Cui about the benefits and challenges bringing the World Cup to Commonwealth Stadium could bring to the Elks. The city is waiting to hear from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, if it will indeed be hosting World Cup matches in 2026. If the answer is yes, it means renovations to the stadium are coming. It means grass will be installed — and, make no mistake, the demand is now for a permanent grass field, not for sod to be rolled over the artificial surface. It means the Elks could benefit in the long run, but may have to make some sacrifices in the years leading up to the World Cup, and especially in 2026.
Cui, who worked in communications for the organizing committee of the 2001 World Championships in Athletics, gave a somewhat cryptic answer. He spoke about how great the “big” events are for a city. But he followed that up with how important it is that we recognize the teams that play here on a regular basis. It’s a bridge-building quote, for sure — but one that suggests that it’s important not to forget the Elks when it comes to 2026.
“Any property that puts the city on the map, into the news and into the forefront is great for all of us. It’s great for the economy, it’s great for jobs, it’s great for businesses. I saw personally the legacy that Rick LeLacheur [who had a leadership role in bringing those 2001 games to Edmonton] and his team with Edmonton 2001 left for this city. Athletes and the sports community continued to benefit from that. So, there is a lot of economic impact that happens with organizations with global sports properties. That being said, we [the Elks] have to create an incredibly close partnership with the City, because, together, we have this ability to not just have a little spike in the world of promotion. We have the ability as partners, together with the City, to continually, year after year, improve and showcase the city, to have more people coming here and more people enjoy what we have to offer.”