September 27, 2013

Portland businesses expect to take big hit from hockey's exit

The Pirates will play all 38 of their home games in Lewiston.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - For Mike Fullerton, one of the good things about Portland Pirates games at the Cumberland County Civic Center was that players and their families almost always stopped in at his sports bar for a drink and a bite to eat afterward.

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Mike Fullerton, manager of Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill, says the loss of the Pirates fan base is “going to be a big hit for us” economically.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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That won't happen this hockey season, and Fullerton, who manages Rivalries on Cotton Street, a short walk from the civic center, said his business will suffer.

The Pirates announced Thursday that they will play all 38 of their home games in 2013-14 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. The season opener is Oct. 12.

A study done in 2010 showed that losing the Pirates' home games for a season would cost the local economy about $5.7 million if the civic center could not replace the games with comparable events.

"The Pirates offer us a solid fan base," Fullerton said. "It's going to be a big hit for us."

Rivalries, which has multiple wide-screen televisions on two floors, is a popular place for hockey fans to gather before and after Pirates games.

Fullerton said Rivalries has consistently drawn large crowds of hockey fans on the nights of Pirates games.

On nights when there are concerts or other events at the civic center, Rivalries is more likely to attract people who have never been to the bar. Those are the nights when the crowds aren't as big.

Angie Galvin, a waitress at Rivalries, said she fears that the loss of the Pirates will hurt business.

Galvin said the hockey players are a big draw for Pirates fans. Many come into the bar to meet a player or try to get an autograph, she said.

"We are going to miss them. I hope we can get them back. It's going to be a big (financial) hit on us," Galvin said.

Jerod Nichols and his friend Chris Qualey of South Portland were having a beer Thursday night at Rivalries, as multiple games were broadcast on televisions overhead.

"I don't think (the Pirates) will have the same following in Lewiston that they have here," Nichols said. "They're going to lose money. I hope the Pirates come back to Portland."

At Binga's Stadium, a sports bar directly across Free Street from the civic center, the return of the hockey team after the civic center's $34 million renovation was seen as "the light at the end of the tunnel," said its general manager.

For months, the bar has dealt with the noise and dirt of the renovation, as well as the closed streets and lost parking spaces, said Rob Kolodzej. But the Pirates always brought in many fans for pre- and post-game chicken wings and beer, he said.

The Pirates were initially scheduled to play their first 13 home games in Lewiston while the renovation was completed.

The team's decision to stay in Lewiston all season "is definitely going to hit us in the pocketbook," said Kolodzej.

"There was no doubt about it, that the return of the Pirates was going to be a big lift for us," he said. "It's really a tough thing for the community."

Kolodzej said Pirates' game nights have usually been the biggest of the year for the sports bar. Fans have crowded in before the games and after. He said the bar was a team sponsor.

"I don't think fans are going to stop in for wings and a beer after a game in Lewiston," he said.

Concerts and other shows at the civic center also draw well, and Kolodzej said he hopes the arena's managers can land some of them to offset the loss of the Pirates.

But it will be tough to land 25 concerts, he said, to replace all the nights the Pirates won't be in town this season.

"We've just lost 25 phenomenal nights," he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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