PORTLAND, Maine (WWLP) – Less than a month after learning the Falcons were planning to move to Arizona, Springfield could soon be home to a new minor league hockey team. But Springfield’s big score is a loss for another city: Portland, Maine.
22News traveled to Portland Thursday, where the city’s mayor, Ethan Strimling, is concerned that the moving of the Portland Pirates to Springfield would have a dire economic impact on local businesses. Bars and restaurants downtown would be extra busy on game nights, and losing that boost could have a big effect. Our NBC affilate WCSH spoke with Strimling, who said this was a surprise announcement to everyone.
“There aren’t a lot of teams out there, we have a good arena, we have a facility that’s definitely something people aspire to play in, but if there aren’t teams out there, we’re going to have to market ourselves pretty hard. But the impact on our local business is really going to be tough,” Strimling said.
What we are hearing in Portland is confusion: fans are not sure why a group of western Massachusetts investors wants to buy the Pirates and move them to Springfield. Hockey fan Devin Temple of Portland said this announcement was a complete shock to everyone.
“This is all after a major expansion of our Civic Center here, lots of taxpayer dollars going into that, and now the major tenant for that venue is leaving, and I think it’s very sudden,” Temple said.
He said ticket sales increased after the Civic Center was renovated into the Cross Insurance Arena. The Pirates’ attendance, however, was the second-lowest in the league better only than Springfield’s turnout.
“Ticket sales is the problem, because the ticket sales have gone down like crazy. We’re next to last in the American Hockey League in attendance,” said unofficial “Pirates Ambassador” Raymond “Switchboard” Dudley.
Weeks ago, 22News spoke with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who said he hoped MGM Springfield would be appealing for a new team to move in. 22News spoke with the mayor as the news broke Wednesday night.
“I’m very, very hopeful that we will have professional- continue to have professional hockey here, this upcoming season,” Sarno said.
So far, the investors have made a “letter of intent” to purchase the Portland Pirates. This still needs approval from the Pirates’ parent company, the NHL’s Florida Panthers, and approval from the AHL.
A meeting on the Pirates’ possible move was held Thursday at the Cross Insurance Arena.