Yesterday, the ownership group of the Portland Pirates have sued the Cumberland County Civic Center trustees after missing a deadline last Thursday on a lease agreement. Now, the Portland Pirates plan on playing the entire season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine and leaving the future of hockey in Portland in serious doubt.
Hockey fans throughout Maine have been through this before with three different teams. First, it was the Maine Nordiques, a farm club for the Quebec Nordiques. Then it was the beloved Maine Mariners squad, served as a farm club for three different franchises during it’s run in Maine, who left Portland after 15 mostly successful years. More recently, the first, and to date only, American QMJHL team, the Lewiston Maineiacs, folded and headed to Sherbrooke, Quebec. They really don’t want another team to move away, especially a popular one in the Pirates.
Beer and Greed
Of course, this whole feud between the Pirates ownership and the Civic Center trustees is based over food and liquor sales. Yep, something as trivial as food and liquor sales could spell the end of an AHL franchise in Maine. The Pirates want to share the revenue made from beer sales with the Civic Center, but they can’t due to the county being the liquor license holder.
So, because the Pirates aren’t getting their piece out of an overpriced beer, they may just move the team out of Portland? Seems like a rational response. Again, this is another case of ownership being greedy and looking at the almighty dollar rather than thinking of the people who actually make the owners money, the fans.
There are other issues that led to this disagreement, such as, advertising revenue, reneging on issues that were agreed on months ago, but the concession one to me is a ludicrous reason for a team to possibly relocate.
Colisee is an Unsuitable Venue
If the Portland Pirates decide to move to Lewiston, the Colisee is a below standard venue for the AHL. The Colisee is an old building by arena standards, built in 1956, and is a very small venue by AHL standards, only seating 3,677 for hockey games. The Colisee was once home to the Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL and that seating capacity might have been alright for junior hockey, but this is the professional ranks and that just isn’t going to work.
The Colisee is full of history from Cassius Clay defeating Sonny Liston in a fight more known for it’s iconic photo of Clay standing over Liston and Bruce Springsteen playing his only concert in Maine, but it won’t fly as a venue for an AHL team. The building has undergone a renovation recently, but more work needs to be done.
The Pirates were only supposed to play 13 games at the Colisee this season, due to renovations made to the Cumberland County Civic Center, but now it seems as if this small, antiquated hockey arena could be a full time home for a pro hockey team. That’s not a good sign.
Coyotes Losing Interest?
Meanwhile, while both sides are bickering and now involved in lawsuits, the Phoenix Coyotes could essentially end everything for the Pirates.
Portland Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek told a court in an affidavit that if the team cannot play in Portland, the Coyotes will seriously consider terminating their contract with the Pirates.
“Without being able to play at the facility, there is a very real possibility that the Coyotes could terminate our relationship with them. Without that relationship, the Portland Pirates would be unable to stay in business.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if Phoenix just broke ties with this current mess of a team. The Pirates are basically without a home for this upcoming season. The Coyotes, nor any team, cannot affiliate themselves with a team with this current mess that they are in.
It never really made much sense to me that the Phoenix Coyotes affiliated themselves with the Pirates in the first place. Phoenix and Portland are almost the furthest apart that you can get in the US. It would just make more sense for the Coyotes to find a team closer to Phoenix to affiliate themselves with.
Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center board of trustees, has bluntly said that the city of Portland will look for another sports franchise to fill the void left behind by the Portland Pirates, if they choose to leave.
While the civic center may be easily able to acquire a new sports franchise, it doesn’t change the fact that a beloved hockey team like the Pirates could be ripped from Maine. Executives never see this or care about the fan’s feelings, all they care about is money, money, money.
Mark Wallace Graham has been a writer for TheHockeyWriters.com since March 2013. Growing up in New England, Boston Bruins hockey was in my blood. Follow me on Twitter, @MarkWGraham