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Dave Naylor: Edmonton Elks seeking private ownership for first time in franchise history | TSN

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The Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Elks have begun seeking new ownership in a planned transition from non-profit stewardship into private hands for the first time in the franchise’s 75-year history.

The CFL club has been working this off-season with the California-based Park Lane, a sports investment bank that managed the sale of the Montreal Alouettes to Pierre Karl Péladeau just over a year ago.

Roughly two weeks after Park Lane began putting out feelers to potentially interested parties, more than a dozen non-disclosure agreements have already been signed.

While the Elks’ board of directors will be seeking an owner with a strong commitment to the Edmonton community, there is no requirement that a potential owner be based locally.

It is believed the timeline for completing a sale is roughly in line with the start of the CFL regular season. Mid-April is the cut-off for expressions of interest, and a shortlist of finalists will be drafted by mid-May. The hope is to select the successful bidder by the middle of June.

The Elks are scheduled to play their first regular-season game of the 2024 season on June 8.

Though the team is not in a financially distressed situation, with reserves of roughly $7 million, it is in need of a capital investment to restore the season ticket base as well as improve the club’s infrastructure and its standing in the community.

A couple of dynamics make this sale unique.

For one, there is a growing belief within the Edmonton football community that a new or refurbished stadium has to be part of the team’s future. As such, owners prepared to invest in that kind of vision could be valued more than those who are not.

Additionally, since the Elks sale is being overseen by a non-profit, the priority is expected to be how much a potential owner is willing to invest in the club and it’s infrastructure, rather than the sale price.

Until recent seasons, the Elks had been a model of stability throughout their history and the only CFL team to not face an economic crisis over the past half-century.

Its reserves were fattened by $10.4 million (U.S.) in 2003 when the non-profit ownership sold the Triple-A baseball Edmonton Trappers to an owner who moved the team to Texas.

But those reserves began being tapped in 2019, and accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of the 2020 season and left the league playing only a partial season before limited crowds in 2021.

The 2021 season was not a good one for the Elks on the field either. The team finished 3-11, with both head coach Jaime Elizondo and general manager Brock Sunderland being dismissed at season’s end.

Edmonton followed that up with back-to-back 4-14 seasons in 2022 and 2023 under Chris Jones as both head coach and GM.

The team started the 2023 season 0-9 and set a major North American men’s professional sports record in late July by losing its 21st consecutive home game.

The losing seasons also coincided with the name change from Eskimos to Elks in 2021, which was unpopular with some of the fan base.

As recently as 2018, the team announced a profit of $2.8 million. That figure slipped to a loss of $1.1 million in 2019, followed by losses of $7.1 million in 2020 (with no season) and $1.1 million in the pandemic-shortened season of 2021.

The 2022 season saw losses of $3.3 million, as attendance plummeted amid on-field losses, with the team’s stabilization fund listed in its annual report for that season as $11.36 million.

The annual report for 2023 has not yet been released.

The CFL is comprised of six privately owned teams, and three teams operated by non-profit boards – Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton – often referred to as “community” ownership.

The Calgary Stampeders were community-owned by a non-profit board until 1991, at which time they were sold to Larry Ryckman and have remained in private hands ever since.

Earlier this week, former Edmonton player Garrick Jones, who now lives in Houston, told Global News in Edmonton that he has put together a group of former players interested in buying the team.

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