The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles have a new majority shareholder.
Irwin Simon, who was born and raised in Glace Bay, N.S., now owns 70 per cent of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team and is chair of the board of directors.
"I grew up here and it's the connection to the community," said Irwin. "It was important to come back and give back to the community."
Simon now lives in New York City and is the founder of Hain Celestial Group, an organic and natural products company.
He is also co-owner of the St. John's Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada.
Cape Breton roots
Simon's first attempt to buy the Screaming Eagles in June was rejected.
"I didn't go away so easy, so I kept pushing and pushing," said Simon. "If I didn't have a connection to Glace Bay, they would have absolutely said no to me."
Simon said the sale hinged on his commitment to the Eagles and that he would not move the team.
Simon won't reveal how much he paid for the team, but says the number has "seven figures in front of it."
Stuart MacLeod, who was part of the group that brought the Screaming Eagles to Cape Breton in 1997, said it was "an extremely generous offer."
"And I think that swayed a number of people," he said.
'He impressed us'
MacLeod said nobody was even thinking of selling at first — but Simon convinced them.
"He impressed us," said MacLeod.
He said several smaller shareholders sold outright and others sold some of their shares to Simon.
He said Simon owns about 70 per cent. The rest of the team is owned by the remaining eight shareholders.
"It is obvious that new blood, new ideas are a good thing and he certainly represents all of that," said MacLeod.
Craig O'Neil, a season-ticket holder, hailed the sale as good news.
"We needed fresh blood," O'Neil said. "I do like the idea, it's enthusiastic and I hope it rolls over into attendance."
Increasing game attendance a priority
Simon said increasing game attendance to around 3,500-4,000 people and making it to the third round of the playoffs this season are achievable goals.
When asked whether he intended to buy Centre 200 as well, Simon would not say.
He did point out the benefits of controlling where the team plays and cited the attributes of the venue and how it could be used as a training facility.
He said his first order of business is to meet with everyone involved in the organization.
"I didn't invest here to sort of come in once and awhile. I will be very hands-on, that's the way I am," Simon said.
"But on the other hand, you have got to empower people. I'm big on empowering people."