The Maine Sports Commission’s Business of Sports Symposium, slated for Thursday, April 16, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, will bring together municipal, nonprofit and commercial reps – including keynote speaker Larry Lucchino, president of the Boston Red Sox – to discuss the place of athletic events in Maine’s economy.

“Maine may be tucked away geographically, but it’s a vital part of Red Sox Nation and the American sports landscape as a whole,” says Lucchino. “At Fenway Park, we often say that Maine fans are among the most passionate in Red Sox Nation, and while Maine may not be a huge state population-wise, the avidity that its residents have for both professional and college sports is renowned.

“When it comes to attracting sports events and sports-related businesses, that avidity is a major asset and selling point that Maine should continue to use and emphasize.”

The Maine Sports Commission works closely with the boards of the state’s eight tourism regions: Aroostook County, the Maine Highlands (Katahdin, Moosehead, Bangor), Kennebec Valley, Downeast and Acadia, Greater Portland and Casco Bay, Midcoast, Maine’s Lakes and Mountains and the Maine Beaches.

Rob Coppola, the new strategic director for the Maine Sports Commission, aggressively aims to raise awareness, of both the organization itself and the numerous sports options Maine offers locals as well as visitors through all four seasons.

“As a tourism board member,” Coppola, a resident of Cumberland, says, “You’re always looking for events to fill hotel rooms, to generate economic activity, and we think sports is a great way to do that.

The Symposium will also feature a pair of panel discussions, moderated by WCSH sportscaster Lee Goldberg. The first will chew over the fiscal ramifications of sports in the state, and will feature Maine Winter Sports Center President and CEO Andy Shepard, Westbrook Assistant City Administrator and Director of Business and Community Relations Bill Baker and Shamrock Sports Group President Brian Corcoran.

Shepard was named the Outstanding Non-Profit Business Executive for Maine in 2010. Baker was instrumental in bringing the Tough Mudder to Westbrook; the event poured more than $5 million into local coffers in 2014, and will return later this year.

Corcoran, meanwhile, was the driving force behind a recent Professional Bowlers Association competition at Bayside Bowl in Portland, which will run on ESPN for four consecutive weekends. Companies like Shamrock play an important role in bringing events to Maine.

“The bulk of our business is representing national sports properties, like NASCAR, the PBA, the World Series of Poker, the Indiana Pacers, among others,” says Corcoran. “What we’re looking to do in conjunction with the Maine Sports Commission and other leaders in sports in the region is find ways that we can drive economic impact through events like, as an example, the PBA event at Bayside Bowl.”

Corcoran adds that the PBA event is estimated to have directly injected $1.5 million in economic impact to the region.

“But the impact is far greater because you have a couple million people watching this PBA Maine event on ESPN…We had the 40 best bowlers in the world on display, right here in Portland, Maine,” he said.

Moreover, companies who make sports their business – and thrive in doing so – of course employ Mainers. Shamrock itself, just five years old, is 15 people strong. And such companies boost their clients’ stature as well as their own.

“Shamrock is one piece of a bigger puzzle, with the Maine Sports Commission and longer list of very dedicated, passionate people, that finally have a game plan to bring more events like the PBA, like the Tough Mudder; to renovate venues like the Cumberland County Civic Center – there’s a world of opportunity.”

The second panel discussion, titled “Brands Fueled by the Power of Sports Partnerships,” will feature Larry Wold, Maine president of TD Bank, as well as Michael Bourque, senior vice president at MEMIC in Portland. TD Bank, of course, is the lead sponsor of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, one of the world’s premier road races and the baby of Cape Elizabeth native and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson.

MEMIC sponsors numerous Maine teams and events, not to mention Gillette Stadium.

“Like any business, we want to sell our products,” Bourque says. “And in order for us to sell our products, people have to know about our products.

“Our marketing, that we do with local teams, it’s awareness about our company and our messaging, but it’s also about being part of this community. It’s a reminder for us and those around us that we’re a local company.

“There’s not necessarily a charge that we do it, but there’s benefit in being associated with it.”

Firms like MEMIC consider team, venue and event sponsorships to be marketing tools, but also means of spreading their message. MEMIC sells worker’s compensation insurance, for instance, so they sponsor the Pirates helmets as a symbol of workplace safety.

Sports as tourism is a growing force in Maine’s economy. In addition to local professional teams like the Sea Dogs, the Pirates and the Red Claws, as well as venerable events like the Beach to Beacon and the Tri for a Cure, a profusion of road races, mudders, triathlons and more is burgeoning across the state. Some are small, some enormous; but all attract plenty of participants, and more each year they recur.

“Both large and small-scale events can be key to driving economic growth, whether you’re in the business of running a professional ball club, or you’re trying to generate new business in a region or state,” says Lucchino.

“Take our Fenway Park example: obviously our business is predicated on the 81-plus baseball games we play each year, as well as the concerts and other large, ballpark-wide events we host.

“But we’ve also been able to cultivate a successful effort led by our Fenway Enterprises department to sell Fenway Park for more intimate, non-game events, like birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate outings.”

Baker agrees wholeheartedly. “I clearly think the combination is ideal: The smaller events are easier to attract and easier to host and easier to implement, and even though they are small-scale events, they still bring in an attractive demographic who spend money in local restaurants and gas stations and places of accommodation.

“But our emphasis is also going after the large events, like Tough Mudder…We’re actively pursuing several, including something called the Cynosport World Games, which is a large dog-agility event. We’re looking at some of the triathlon events sponsored by U.S. Triathlon. BMX bicycle events is another one we’re looking at. Even things like the Quidditch World Games, which was not a sport I was familiar with.”

Quidditch, as Baker learned, is Harry Potter’s sport of choice, and it’s no longer strictly fictional. (Seriously.)

“Obviously, Maine has tremendous natural resources to rely on,” says Coppola, “and the people around here are excited about having events and being outdoors and taking part in new and interesting things.”

In recent years, activities companies from outside the state have found a welcoming home here, among them the Tough Mudder, the Rev3 Triathlon and the Color Run. In addition, local entrepreneurs have founded oodles of events, from BikeMaine to Gorham’s Into the Mud Challenge to the King of the Beach mixed martial arts competition in Old Orchard Beach.

Major amateur events are also making their way to our corner of the country. The U.S. Alpine Championships landed at Sugarloaf recently; Presque Isle hosted the Junior Biathlon World Cup last year (and will host a World Cup event in 2016); and Bowdoin hosted the 2014 NCAA Division III Men’s Frozen Four at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston as well.

“The Maine Sports Commission can really play a role in bringing these unique events that are going to bring people from outside the state who’ll hopefully be repeat visitors,” says Coppola.

“Sports are a way to increase tourism in the times of year when you’re not getting the vacationers.”

And while municipalities might compete with one another to host events, Baker notes that the economic impact of a triathlon, a mudder, a quidditch final – whatever – can ripple from one community to the next.

“I personally feel like, what’s good for Westbrook is good for the region and the state,” he said. “Some of the bigger municipalities – in every state – are fond of saying that the rising tide floats all boats, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, because the larger municipalities that host a large event are able to accommodate all aspects of that event in their city. They have the hotel rooms, the restaurants, all the necessary amenities.

“Conversely, a city like Westbrook or Gorham or Scarborough hosting an event, it is good for the region generally, because our event will put people in seasonal rentals out by Sebago Lake and hotels in Portland and in restaurants everywhere in between. So I think the spillover effect of smaller jurisdictions hosting events is more beneficial on a broader scale.

“Which is one of the reasons we’re participating in the Symposium: to talk about our experience in making a blind, unsolicited proposal to an organization like Tough Mudder. We think everybody else can do it, too.”

Coppola also sees potential everywhere; he’s eager to help local sports organizers and to work with those from away.

“There are people in southern Maine who’ve started intramural leagues, who’ve started their own races; I’d love to talk to those people and say, ‘How can I help you make your event bigger and better?’” Coppola said. “I want to talk to anybody and everybody who’s interested in bringing a sports event to Maine.”

That brand of hospitality is vital to nurturing the state’s sports industry. As Lucchino says: “Each customer who visits us – whether they’re here with 38,000 other people for a ballgame, or 200 other people for a corporate function – is here as a guest who we need to treat like a VIP, because the experience they have will impact their willingness to return and engage with us again and again and again.

“The same holds true for those who take part in Maine sporting events, both large and small.”

A Closer Look:

The Maine Sports Commission is online at www.mainsportscomission.com; they can be reached by phone at 485-5500 and by email at [email protected] Seats for the April 16 symposium can be reserved at www.mainesportsbusinesssymposium.eventbrite.com.

Believe it or not, enough people find this appealing (what’s not to like, after all?), that last year’s Tough Mudder drew thousands of participants to Westbrook and injected better than $5 million into the local economy. The Mudder returns to the city this August.The Beach to Beacon is one of the world’s premier 10Ks; Joan Benoit Samuelson’s creation attracts top runners from across the planet.


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