EDMONTON — When Victor Cui was 12 years old, his family returned to their hometown of Edmonton after spending six years in Africa. One of the first things they did when they got back was go to a CFL game at Commonwealth Stadium.
For Cui, it was an unforgettable experience.
“One of the first things my family did was go to a football game,” said Cui, who was unveiled as the new president and chief executive officer of the Elks on Tuesday in a ceremony at Edmonton City Hall.
“I remember the magical feeling of putting on the jersey. You put it on, you walk into the stadium and, suddenly, your family expands to 30,000 people, and you are cheering, you are screaming and doing the wave, and all of those magical things that happen with live sports.
"That memory is ingrained and that’s why I have passion for live sports.”
Now 50, Cui is once again returning to Edmonton with football playing a large role.
For more than a decade, Cui has been CEO of Singapore's One Championship, which calls itself "Asia’s largest global sports media platform." The mixed-martial bouts promoted by One are broadcast in more than 150 countries.
He has also been a communications director for the Canadian Open stop on the PGA Tour, and managed the communications department when Edmonton hosted the World Championships in athletics back in 2001.
The Elks fired then-president Chris Presson in November, part of a housecleaning that included former general manager Brock Sunderland and ex-head coach Jaime Elizondo.
Not only did the Elks finish 3-11 and miss the playoffs by a country mile, but, for the first time in franchise history, the team did not win a home game. The team’s average attendance was just 26,210, the lowest figure since the team moved into Commonwealth Stadium in 1978.
Cui knows he has a big job ahead of him. He spoke about how fan bases are built differently than they have been in the past, how highlights from sporting events go viral on social media just seconds after they happen. And, he talked about how many of the English Premier League’s super teams — think Liverpool or Manchester United — have millions upon millions of devoted fans all over the world, even though many of them have never set foot on English soil.
That’s what the Internet and digital broadcasting has done; they have accelerated the idea that fan bases are global, not local. And he thinks the Elks, part of what is a uniquely Canadian game, need to take better advantage of this.
“How do we build a community that extends beyond just our stadium, and beyond the city of Edmonton?” Cui asked. “Because there are Edmontonian fans all around the world. If we give them a chance to see the highlights, to engage and just fall in love with the hard work people are doing, that’s where we need to go.”
When the Elks cleaned house, a headhunting firm was brought in a pro bono basis to identify candidates around the world. Cui was part of the initial group of 75.
"I’m happy, Victor is the right person for this job," said Ian Murray, the chair of the Elks' board of directors. "You can see his passion. He knows his stuff, he’s very qualified in the sports business. The connection with community is a huge bonus for us."
"The Elks are so integral to our city, and we have to show that this place (city hall) is showing the necessary support for this organization to grow," added Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.
For Cui, Tuesday marked Day 1 of making the Edmonton Elks, and the CFL, a global property. He said he dreams of a time when visitors will come to Edmonton to cross going to an Elks game off their bucket lists.
“I want it to be as iconic as when people go to New York and see a Yankees game,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press