Following the sudden departure of the AHL’s Portland Pirates, there is already talk that another hockey team could to relocate the Maine city. A report from WSCH 6’s Lee Goldberg states that more than one team has contacted city officials about taking the Pirates’ place at Cross Insurance Arena, though some details reamain unknown.
With the Pirates having signed a letter of intent to be sold to an ownership group that will move the franchise to Springfield, MA, Portland is now up for grabs for either another AHL team or a relocating ECHL franchise. It seems likely that local officials will remain in talks to lure a new tenant to Cross Insurance Arena, but it could take time before the dust settles.
The ECHL’s 2016-17 schedule is already public, and there is no indication that an AHL franchise would relocate to Portland before the upcoming season, making the arrival of a new team for the 2017-18 slate more likely. One issue that a new franchise would face is reviving interest from the fan base, as attendance had declined in the years leading up to the Pirates’ relocation. More from Seth Koenig of the Bangor Daily News:
But Maine’s largest city isn’t without its problems.
Pirates Chief Operating Officer Brad Church told local ABC affiliate WMTW the cost of running the team here was outpacing its ability to make money. My colleague, Larry Mahoney, reported that after more than a decade and a half of reliable ticket sales of 4,000-plus-per-game, Pirates attendance had dropped down to around 3,000 per game over the last two seasons.
“It’s a business decision that unfortunately, I think most businessmen would make,” Church told WMTW. “Ownership made it clear a few years ago that the goal was to make this a sustainable business.”
In a strange twist, the only team to finish below the Pirates in attendance last season was the Springfield Falcons, who just weeks ago finalized a move to Tucson. While Cross Insurance Arena had received upgrades in recent years, there is some hope that Springfield’s MassMutual Center will receive a spike in activity once the nearby MGM casino opens in 2018.
The Pirates’ final years in Portland were not without their issues. A lease dispute resulted in the team leaving Cross Insurance Arena—then known as the Cumberland County Civic Center—for the 2013-2014 season, which was played in Lewiston’s Androscoggin Bank Colisée.
The sale and subsequent move of the Pirates to Springfield has been finalized, pending the approval of the NHL affiliate Florida Panthers and the AHL Board of Governors.