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Cape Breton Eagles see surge in attendance after years of low numbers

During the first few months of the regular season, the Cape Breton Eagles saw an average attendance of 1,900 fans per game. But that number has jumped to an average of 2,700 since early December. (Cape Breton Eagles - image credit)
During the first few months of the regular season, the Cape Breton Eagles saw an average attendance of 1,900 fans per game. But that number has jumped to an average of 2,700 since early December. (Cape Breton Eagles - image credit)

After years of struggling attendance, the Cape Breton Eagles are finally seeing an uptick in fan engagement at Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S.

For years — and even earlier in the 2023-24 season — the Cape Breton franchise had among the lowest attendance across the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League.

Up until mid-November, only one home game had more than 2,000 tickets sold in an arena that can seat upwards of 5,000 fans.

But since the start of December, nine of the 10 home games have had more than 2,000 fans, with several games having more than 3,000 in attendance.

Those in the Eagles front office say the increase has to do with new efforts to entertain fans at the game, and a better product on the ice.

"We've definitely seen that the crowds have improved, the atmosphere [has] improved and there's more people in the stands," said Brad Chandler, the team's director of communications. "I think more people are really starting to care about this team."

Captain for the Cape Breton Eagles, Zach Biggar said improved success on the ice and better engagement with the fans has helped increase ticket sales for home games.
Captain for the Cape Breton Eagles, Zach Biggar said improved success on the ice and better engagement with the fans has helped increase ticket sales for home games.

Cape Breton Eagles captain Zach Biggar says more success on the ice and better engagement with fans has helped increase ticket sales for home games. (Cape Breton Eagles)

A new offer for this season includes a Ticket to Win it campaign, where every game with 3,000 fans in attendance means someone in the stands will win $3,000 from the team.

The organization has also opened a section of the rink as a lounge area where fans can socialize during the game and intermission. Chandler said these changes, along with a better team, have helped immensely.

"I think a lot of people are realizing that this team has a shot and they're improving every game and the crowds are showing that they're appreciating that as well," he said.

Social media drawing fans

For their part, the players have been stepping up their game, and participating in activities off the ice that are shared with the fans.

The team has a 0.574-win percentage as of the end of January, and recently beat top teams including the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats.

"Obviously, our [general manager Sylvain Couturier] went out and made a couple moves at the deadline. And you know, it's really helped us a lot since the Christmas break," said team captain, Zach Biggar.

"I think the guys have gelled a lot since that break and have gotten a lot closer."

Cape Breton Eagles players defend net against Acadie Bathurst Titan player in QMJHL action.
Cape Breton Eagles players defend net against Acadie Bathurst Titan player in QMJHL action.

Cape Breton Eagles players defend net against an Acadie-Bathurst Titan player in QMJHL action last fall. (Cape Breton Eagles)

Chandler and Biggar both point to more engagement on social media as being a big help for growing fan interest. In recent days, the team posted about a Ping-Pong tournament happening within the team, and behind-the-scenes videos of them celebrating their wins from the locker room.

Biggar said the videos are fun to make, and the team knows fans enjoy seeing the personalities of players outside of hockey.

"I think that's a big thing for fans to see and, you know what? It's a lot of fun for us too as players."

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