Officials with the Maine Mariners and Maine Celtics said season-ticket sales have surpassed any of their previous seasons, and that few fans have complained about entry policies requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative COVID-19 test result.

The Mariners open their 2021-22 ECHL season Friday night at Cross Insurance Arena, and the Celtics open their NBA G League home schedule at the Portland Expo on Nov. 12.

Adam Goldberg, the Mariners’ vice president of business operations, said season-ticket packages have increased by 11 percent this year and that he expects a big crowd at the opener on Friday. “I think there’s a pent-up demand for live events, live hockey,” he said.

Evans Boston, the senior director of public and community relations for the Maine Celtics, said season-ticket sales are up 44 percent from the 2019-20 season. “I think that shows people are ready to go to stuff, to have basketball back,” he said.

It has been 19 months since a professional sports team last played an indoor game in Portland. Both the ECHL and the G League halted play in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic began to topple professional sports leagues. The seasons were eventually canceled and neither team played in the modified 2020-21 seasons.

“I just think people are extremely fired up to finally have hockey back,” Goldberg said. “Everyone is anticipating a nice fun year of hockey. And we’re working hard to make sure the fan experience is exciting and safe.”

Both facilities have enacted proof-of-vaccination protocols for patrons 12 and older attending any events. The mandate at Cross Insurance Arena comes from Cumberland County officials, and mandate at the Expo comes from the City of Portland.

“We’ve had some people that aren’t comfortable with policy handed down by the county,” Goldberg said, adding the team is working with them to keep them informed in the event the policy changes.

“It’s not that many,” he said. “We’ll keep in touch with them. If anything, this pandemic has taught us that conditions can change quickly.”

Boston said the Maine Celtics have had more people applaud the decision by the City of Portland than those critical of it.

“We have had a few (complain), but a lot more people that have been excited or encouraged to come now that they know a vaccine mandate is in place,” said Boston. “People who were kind of waiting to see what was going to happen, now feel more comfortable coming to the arena knowing the mandate is required.

“Certainly we’ve had some people say they didn’t agree with it and understand it’s a city of Portland ordinance. They own the building and we’re following those rules. We’ve worked with those few individuals who have brought it up.”

Both franchises have been aided by changes while they were shut down during the pandemic. The Mariners changed affiliations to the Boston Bruins and have a new head coach in Ben Guite, the former University of Maine star and assistant coach. The Celtics were rebranded from the Red Claws, to more closely align themselves with the Boston Celtics.

Mike LoConte, the assistant general manager at Cross Insurance Arena, is not surprised at the reaction from fans. He said the venue has already required proof of vaccination or a negative test result at a couple of concerts this summer.

Cross Insurance Arena also hosts concerts and other events. Comedian Gabriel Iglesias will hold a show on Oct. 30. The University of Maine will play UMass-
Lowell in a men’s hockey game on Nov. 27, and the popular group Pentatonix will hold a Christmas show on Dec. 2.

“Generally, by and large, (the response) has been positive,” said LoConte. “We’re not making everyone happy, but for the most part fans are appreciative that we’re trying to take care of them when they come in.

“I really think fans have adopted it, that this is the way it’s going to be.”

The Celtics’ Boston added, “I think people were expecting this. This isn’t a big surprise, the vaccine mandates. It’s what you have to do to have live sports in 21-22.”

The event staff at each venue will take care of the verification process. Fans will be required to provide proof of vaccination (either the card or a photo of the card) or a negative test result, along with a photo ID that has a matching name to the card.

The Mariners’ Goldberg said the fans he’s spoken to understand why the entry policies have been put in place.

“The whole name of the game, especially with the pandemic, is that we want the fans to feel comfortable,” he said. “Everyone has their own level of personal safety and we want them to come and feel comfortable and enjoy the game.”

The Cross Insurance Arena and the Portland Expo are also sites for the Maine Principals’ Association’s high school basketball tournaments and state championship games. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham has met with officials from both venues to discuss what will be required.

The MPA did move its Class A and B volleyball state championships from the University of Southern Maine, which is requiring proof of vaccination for crowds of more than 250 people, to Lewiston High on Oct. 30. The move was made before the UMaine System announced its COVID-19 entry policy.

“There was some uncertainty about what the crowd requirements were going to be,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson. “Without knowing where it was going, we decided to make a change to a high school venue.”

Bisson said Lewiston only requires a mask be worn inside the building. He noted that high school volleyball teams have not played with a proof of vaccination mandate all season, and “to try to do that at the last minute would have been a challenge.”


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