The Maine Mammoths are planning a few changes for 2019 after seeing attendance dwindle at each of their eight National Arena League football home dates during their first season at Cross Insurance Arena.

Fans of the team can expect more Friday night dates instead of Saturdays next summer and perhaps more home games in April and May before schools are on recess. The Mammoths played once in April and once in May this spring and drew their two biggest crowds.

Losing seven of their first eight games scuttled the Mammoths’ playoff chances, but the team turned things around and won six of its final seven contests – including five in a row to end its inaugural season. On the eve of the league championship in Greensboro, North Carolina – where the host Carolina Cobras thumped the Columbus (Georgia) Lions 66-8 – the NAL held a banquet to announce a series of awards and named Maine as its Franchise of the Year.

Maine was one of three expansion teams in 2018, along with Carolina and the Massachusetts Pirates of Worcester, and the only one of the three that failed to reach the four-team playoffs. An announcement from the league touted the Mammoths’ popularity as “unmatched for expansion teams in the NAL and the attendance from their games grew throughout the season.”

Popularity is difficult to measure. Attendance, not so much.

According to figures provided by Cumberland County, which oversees operation of Cross Insurance Arena, the turnstile count at Mammoths games peaked at 3,713 for their home opener on April 14 and fell to a low of 1,472 for the season finale on Aug. 5. The last game was pushed back from a Saturday night to a Sunday afternoon because inclement weather forced a change in travel for the visiting Jacksonville Sharks.

The Mammoths averaged 2,019 fans per game. Carolina drew 2,299 and Massachusetts 2,402. Jacksonville, which played seven seasons in the Arena Football League before becoming an inaugural member of the six-team NAL in 2017, averaged 8,052.

“We had a very successful first year in Maine,” said Jeff Bouchy, the league’s expansion committee chair who also has an ownership stake in the Maine, Carolina and Jacksonville franchises. “We made some mistakes. Normally in our league, attendance skyrockets in summer, but in Maine people hit the ocean, hit the lake. So next year we want to play on Friday nights to keep the people downtown and maybe on Saturdays when school is in session.”

Bouchy said the league plans to add two expansion franchises for 2019, most likely in Orlando, Florida, and the New York metropolitan area, for a total of eight teams. No official announcements will be made until leases are signed, but the New York Streets already organized a tryout in June in Florham Park, New Jersey.

“Other teams are in the works,” Bouchy said, “but not as far along as those two.”

With an eight-team league, the regular season would be shortened from 16 to 14 games, Bouchy said, giving each team home-and-away dates with seven opponents.

Players are free to sign with any team, so roster turnover is inevitable. Niko Sierra, who played linebacker for the Mammoths, said he isn’t sure whether he will return to Portland but saw definite signs of progress.

“I think we had the best fans in the league,” said Sierra, by phone from his home in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “They got so energized and enthusiastic and it was contagious for the players, for the coaches. It made us want to play harder.”

The Mammoths provided housing for players at South Portland’s Redbank Village. Minor-league hockey players of the nascent Maine Mariners will have a similar arrangement at the same complex.

“It was nice housing,” Sierra said. “We were taken care of. For a first-year team, we got off to a slow start with getting housing, getting food, finding a gym and traveling, but once those first four games got done, everything was smooth sailing from there.”

In early June, the Mammoths parted ways with Will Riley, eliminating the position of team president. Elena Barnes, director of business and operations, is the only employee based in Maine. Coach James Fuller has returned home to Oregon. Ticketing and marketing operate out of Jacksonville. The team has no physical presence in Portland and sells its apparel online during the offseason.

Barnes said Fuller signed a multiyear contract, “so he’s coming back.” Assistant coach Dean Picotte also is likely to be invited back.

“Next year we’re going to have a front-packed home schedule when the kids are in school and families are not away for vacations,” Barnes said. “It was pretty remarkable what we were able to accomplish with one-and-a-half employees and a small group (of unpaid interns) here. We did a pretty good job, but there’s so much room for improvement.”

Last fall, the Mammoths agreed to a three-year lease at Cross Insurance Arena with a mutually agreeable option to renew for two years. Barnes said several players have remained in town and will take part in community outreach to local hospitals and events with youth football groups.

“Meeting these kids, you develop a relationship,” Sierra said. “We love seeing them smile and hearing them call our name at the games. That goes a long way.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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