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Struggling Elks to review ownership structure

Rick LeLacheur Rick LeLacheur - The Canadian Press

Edmonton's CFL team has struck a committee to review its ownership structure as the club deals with mounting losses.

The goal of the five-person committee is to ensure "professional football continues to thrive as a member of the Canadian Football League in Edmonton and northern Alberta," Elks chairman Tom Richards said Thursday at a media availability.

The team has been community-owned since it was founded in 1949. Elks interim president and chief executive officer Rick LeLacheur said there has been interest in the club from potential private owners.

"I've told them they just have to wait. We've had no negotiations or anything like that," LeLacheur said. "But it's a great community for sports, it's a great community for football and I think there's going to be a fair amount of interest whether it's a group or an individual.

LeLacheur, who serves on the committee as a non-voting member, said in a statement earlier Thursday that the "club’s financial struggles over the last several seasons can't be overlooked."

"The impacts of the COVID pandemic, football operations decisions, and subsequent struggles on the field have all contributed to a difficult financial situation," he said.

LeLacheur, who has agreed to stay on as president and CEO until the process is completed, said the team has had to use a stabilization trust fund to cover expenses.

"Over 2024, if we kept on the same track, or even to a degree got better, that the trust fund is going to be in danger of diminishing," LeLacheur said.

The committee includes board members Richards, Brent Hesje and Darryl Boessenkool, along with previous board members Diane Brickner and Bruce Bentley, who serves as chair.

The team had an operating loss of $3.3 million in 2022, which was the fourth straight year the community-owned club ran a deficit.

LeLacheur, who took over as president/CEO on Aug. 22 after the Elks and former president/CEO Victor Cui parted ways, said he's confident the team will operate in 2024, but new investment is needed for the future.

"We are going to need a capital investment on the club going forward, because it's going to take us a couple of years to get out of these losses we've been accumulating on an annual basis." he said.

News of the Elks' financial struggles is the latest body blow for what was once the model franchise of the CFL.

The franchise has amassed 699 all-time wins — tying it with Calgary for the most in league history — and won 14 Grey Cups, the last coming in 2015 when it finished atop the West Division with a 14-4-0 record.

But Edmonton hasn't reached the CFL playoffs since 2019 when it crossed over into the East Division after finishing fourth in the West with an 8-10 record.

Since the CFL resumed play in 2021 — the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to cancel the 2020 season — Edmonton has recorded three straight last-place finishes in the West Division, with records of 3-11-0 in 2021 and 4-14-0 in '22 and '23.

A 30-20 win over Ottawa on Aug. 28 ended a 22-game home losing streak, the longest in North American professional sports.

The franchise averaged just over 24,700 spectators per game this season _ which included a season-low crowd of 19,921. This year's attendance is down significantly from 2015 when the franchise averaged a CFL-high 31,517 fans per game.

Next season, Edmonton will close the upper bowl at Commonwealth Stadium, which has a seating capacity for 56,400 fans.

The Elks did improve their on-field product at the end of this past season thanks to the emergence of Canadian quarterback Tre Ford.

LeLacheur said the "environment improved" in Edmonton once Ford took over under centre.

"We're selling a good number of new season seats, which is a great sign," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.