Elks brace for brutal finish to a season to forget amid struggle for wins, fans
The Edmonton Elks are preparing for one last homestand before bracing for the longest week of what’s been a season to forget.
The team sits last in the Canadian Football League West Division with two wins and eight losses, is winless in all six tries at home so far and hasn’t won a game since Labour Day.
“We’re disappointed with where we are as an organization,” said team president Chris Presson.
Starting quarterback Trevor Harris struggled, got injured and was traded. And, the team has lost its last six straight games by an average of more than two touchdowns.
“It’s just been one of those years where we haven’t had anything go right,” Presson said.
Those on-field troubles have worsened as fans shy away and the organization found itself stumbling from one negative headline to the next.
“It’s been the perfect storm in a negative way for us this year,” Presson said.
COVID IMPACT ON AND OFF THE FIELD
The Elks host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night in the team’s final home game of the season.
Their last home game, a 39-23 defeat to Hamilton on Oct. 29, drew just 23,000 tickets sold with the actual number of fans in attendance appearing to amount to fewer than 10,000.
That game was the third straight with under 25,000 tickets sold, something that happened only twice in the prior nine seasons.
“Obviously people will come out and support when the product is good and the product needs to be better,” said head coach Jaime Elizondo.
“It’s hard. It’s hard on everybody in the building.”
Presson said COVID-19 safety restrictions have also affected attendance. Fans are required to produce proof of vaccination or a negative test to attend.
He said unvaccinated fans have told him they don’t want to pay for a test, while some vaccinated fans are still reluctant to attend large gatherings.
“There is still some concern,” he said. “We’re having a lot of no-shows.”
Those fans who have shown up have described the in-game experience as underwhelming, in part because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s just so many things that we’ve had to eliminate this year,” Presson said.
“It’s really taken a toll on its in-game presentation."
COVID-19 has also affected the team’s roster, with an early season coronavirus outbreak affecting several players and forcing a game to be postponed.
That has the team about to enter a brutal finish to the season after the Saskatchewan game.
The Elks are scheduled to play three games in the space of week, starting Nov. 13.
All three are on the road and include a Tuesday night game in Toronto followed by a Saturday game in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions.
“It certainly will be challenging,” Presson said.
OFF FIELD STRUGGLES
The attendance struggles follow a number of ongoing off-field issues.
Earlier this month, former player Eddie Steele was fired by radio broadcaster 630 CHED following remarks about team general manager Brock Sunderland.
The team spent much of the past two years answering questions about its former name, announcing the name change in July 2020 after a sponsor backlash.
A lawsuit from a former employee that alleges he was fired after he refused Sunderland's request to break salary cap rules remains in litigation.
And, the team also drew ill will last year after long-time equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak was let go in his 49th season with the club.
Those incidents have bruised the brand of the community-owned club and left it seeking the support that was once never in doubt.
“We’ve had so much negativity that it would be nice to have some support as a community owned team,” Presson said. “That’s our challenge.”