How to save the Edmonton Elks from extinction

I fully expected the Edmonton Elks management to fire head coach Jamie Elizondo. You can’t coach a team to just three wins – and lose all seven home games – and keep your job.

But I was pleasantly surprised with the Ex-imos board of directors cleaned house, firing CEO and President Chris Presson and GM Brock Sunderland. It’s a gutsy move to clean house of all your top people, and I salute the board for their courageous decision.

So now, the team has to rebuild from the top down. As an off-and-on season seat holder and fan for many decades, I have some solutions to what ails the Elks.

So, here is my six-point plan to return this storied football franchise to glory. Or at least respectability. I can’t help with the football part (Matt Dunnigan still looks pretty fit, maybe he could play), but I have some thoughts about winning back your loyal fans, and making new ones.

First, when seeking out a Chief Executive Officer, start in Edmonton.

“I am SO embarrassed.”

The last choice, Chris Perron, was an American. Why the board of directors thought a Yank with zero knowledge of Canadian football, or Edmonton, would connect with the community is beyond me. The Elks – just like the Bombers and the Roughriders – are community-owned teams. Hence, find a CEO from your community. In a pinch, if you can’t find a suitable candidate from Edmonton (which just means you didn’t look hard enough), expand the search to all of Alberta. I’ll even take somebody from (shudder) Calgary. Just keep it Canadian.

Second, get out into the community.

The Capital District Minor Football Association has 16 Novice Flag teams, 30 Atom teams, 17 Peewee teams, 18 Bantam teams, 6 Midget teams and 4 Girls Tackle teams. Then there’s high school football. and the Edmonton Huskies. And the Edmonton Huskies. And the Golden Bears from the U of A. That’s a lot of football players, coaches, and parents. Surely you can tap into this market with free tickets for the youngest players, and deeply discounted tickets for all amateur players. How about a Salute to Minor Football game day? When these organizations have their end-of-year banquets, are there members of the Elks in attendance? You’ve got a building with nearly 50,000 seats. Just give the freaking tickets away if you have to; you’ll make it up in concessions, and in the process, you’ll build a future fan base.

Third, treat your season ticket holders.

Season seat holders are the lifeblood of your organization. If they are willing to shell out the big bucks to support your team, the least you can do is give them tickets for free concessions. Or game day prizes only for season seat holders. Seriously, Elks, how hard can it be to get local merchants to give you something – anything – to give to your most loyal fans?

Fourth, don’t let the CFL foist a terrible schedule on you.

I had the option to attend the last two Elks games of the season. I passed. They were on Friday nights, at 7 and 7:45. In October. Nobody wants to sit outside in the dark in October. I’m OK with Friday night games in the summer and early fall, but once the weather gets cold (anytime in September and forward), your games should be Saturday afternoon. I am certain that if the last two Elks games of the season had been held on Saturday at 2 pm instead of Friday night, there would have been thousands of additional fans in the stands, even with a team that stunk as bad as this year’s squad. I would have gone, and so would a lot of kids and parents.

Fifth, no rap.

For the past few years, somebody in the Elks brain trust thought having a DJ play unlistenable rap at high volume would be a way to attract the young crowd. The only thing it did was irritate the older crowd. I can guarantee that there was not one single young person in Edmonton who went to a football game because of the DJ. And while we’re talking about awful noises, can we please dispense with the PA announcer exhorting the crowd to cheer on the team?

Sixth, improve the halftime show.

Now, I am not privy to the inner workings of the Elks organization. But I would guess that one of the last straws for the CEO was when the club spend God knows how much money to bring has-been teen brother band Hanson in to perform THREE songs at halftime. M-m-m flop. Again, keep it local. There are still marching bands in Edmonton who would certainly be thrilled to play halftime at an Elks game, and they would bring in more fans (moms and dads, uncles, etc.) to the game than Hanson ever would. But if you really want to bring in a rock band for a halftime show, make it an Edmonton band. Or an Alberta band. Or a Canadian band.

Oh, and bring back the lure coursing dogs! Back in the day, there was no better show than dogs doing tricks at breakneck speeds. The fans loved it.

I’m offering these suggestions to the board of directors, free of charge. However, if they use any of them, I expect some sort of compensation. A hot dog at a game next year would suffice.

By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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