Debate: Should UMaine move more games to Portland?

Jeff Solari and Lee Goldberg debate if UMaine athletics should increase its presence in the southern part of our state.

Lee says….

Ken Ralph has a great opportunity. Last week when Ralph was named the 7th Athletic Director at U-Maine since 2003, the usual accolades were thrown around. Good communicator. Good fund raiser. Understands the history and significance of the Black Bear programs.

Here’s hoping he understands something else. The opportunity to expand south.

Now don’t get all huffy with me yet. I’m well aware it’s U-Maine Orono and what comes with that. I also have heard for each of the 27 years I have been working in Maine television, about all the ‘challenges’ that come with coaching, recruiting, leading, athletics at U-Maine. Soooooooo, why not shake it up and try something different?

When the Black Bears come south, and I mean to Portland, not Augusta, the crowds are pretty good depending on the team. Men’s hockey and football do the best in Cumberland County as there is a large alumni base to support the Southern exposure.

I understand that maybe part of the allure is they only come once every few years (football) and a few times a year (hockey). So your opportunity to see the Black Bears in person has value since it’s not a constant.

A couple/few games are nice and all, but a BOLD move could move the needle a little bit.

How about playing a homecoming football game at Fitzpatrick Stadium? Bring in all of the recruits that weekend. How about committing to 1-2 games every year at Fitzy? Let Maine and UNH play in Portland and you’ll see 6000+ people.

There has been talk for years about Portland hosting an NCAA hockey regional. How about Maine Hockey playing 4-5 games in Cumberland County annually as well?

Same with men’s and women’s basketball. Instead of making it sporadic, make it a constant and use it as a selling point to bring in new advertisers, new recruits, new fans. It certainly can’t hurt and may be necessary to keep Division One athletics in our state.

Jeff says….

I agree with Lee that UMaine should have an increased presence in the southern part of our state.

There are alumni there. Heck there are more people there overall. And much more sponsor money south of the capital.

But in a five year strategic plan for Black Bear athletics, we are a few years away from the Portland phase.

Step one is to reenergize the Black Bear faithful in the communities in the northern region of Maine.

Black Bear sports make less of a blip on the radar today compared to decades past. There are many reasons for this.

The Sox and Patriots are massively popular with the Celtics and Bruins also on the rise.

Big time college football and basketball are attracting more fans as well with games easily accessible on TV or online today.

Locally people now can choose to spend their entertainment money at Waterfront Concerts, The Cross Center, Hollywood Casino and more. These venues also dip into the sponsor revenue line at UMaine.

But if the last sports year for the Black Bears showed anything, it’s that winning teams will bring the Go BLUE loyalists back in droves.

After playing to hundreds of empty seats in first semester, the men’s hockey team put together a nice season and packed them in for some late season games as well as the playoff series with UNH.

Womens basketball played a couple of key home games late, including the America East Title game, both in front of more than 3000 people.

In spite of a four win campaign last year, Maine drew big for a couple of home football games, and should have a massive turnout for the opener against UNH Thursday.

As the teams win, and the game day experiences continue to improve, the fans and sponsors around here will follow on a more regular basis. That is the foundation to growth for the Black Bears.

Then Mr. Ralph and the team at Maine can do what has been talked about for 20 years or more: take their brushes and “paint the state blue.”

Jeff Solari

About Jeff Solari

Jeff Solari is the president and founder of the Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free, weekly sports e mail newsletter. Recently, the Mount Desert Island native was the co-host of "The Drive" on 92.9 FM in Bangor.