New hockey team could be worth at least $1 million in economic activity

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LEWISTON — A long-term contract with a hockey team that wants to call Lewiston-Auburn home is great news for the Twin Cities business community, local business leaders said Monday.

That the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit, soon to be the L-A Fighting Spirit, has agreed to a five-year deal means local businesses and fans can take stock in steady and regular games and events. The length of the deal will help bolster a fan base. A game ticket price that looks like it will be around $7 per adult means affordable, and high-quality hockey is back.

“If they expect support from the business community, the business community needs to know this is not just another flash in the pan or a one-season affair or two-season affair,” said Lucien Gosselin, former president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council.

Gosselin, who was on hand for Monday’s announcement by the team’s owner-coach and the Androscoggin Bank Colisee’s owners, said a long-term agreement gives business a sense of stability but also a sense that there’s  good growth potential.

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“I think that’s the goal,” Gosselin said. “Unrelated, I think it’s great news. It’s overdue, and it seems to offer some real promise here. The L-A Fighting Spirit sounds great.”

Chip Morrison, the retiring president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, said the news would be welcomed for certain.

“It’s really important for the Colisee to have a team,” Morrison said. “It gives them some kind of anchor around which they can plan a yearly schedule.”

Morrison said the hockey fan base in Lewiston-Auburn and the surrounding communities was sizable, and the popularity of youth hockey in the region would be a natural market for the team and the arena.

“It’s always great to have higher-level hockey here,” Morrison said. “It’s fun watching them, just like it was fun when the NCAA Division III was here, it’s high-level hockey.”

Jim Cain, the owner and operator of Firland Management, the company that owns and operates the arena, said getting the team to sign a longer-term agreement was critical to him, too.

“From a business perspective, we are going to add at least 25 event days a year,” Cain said. He said it makes meeting a budget for the facility more realistic. Cain also said he believes the quality of play combined with an affordable ticket price will be well received by a hockey-hungry fan base.

Cain’s company has a mortgage with the city of Lewiston to purchase the Colisee and the city has been flexible with payment arrangements in an effort to keep the facility financially viable for the long-term.

While it’s hard to fully measure the associated economic impact with regularly scheduled hockey at the facility, it is sizable, Cain said.

He said with hopes to put 800 fans in the building on game days, the direct economic impact for the facility comes in the form of tickets, parking, food and beverage sales.

He estimated a 25-event season, including home games and a tournament for the league, could easily have a $1 million impact each year. It’s an estimate that Morrison said was completely in the arena based on previous hockey seasons.

Visiting teams often purchase hotel lodging and meals and both the home-team fans and those from the visiting team spend money in local restaurants and bars, Morrison said.

The team will have an economic impact locally as well, as players and coaches will become local consumers.

The new team’s owner-coach, Rod Simmons, said they wanted a longer-term contract to create stability and a sense of home for the team.

The team played in Lake George, N.Y., before moving to Waterville Valley, N.H., and is now in Laconia.

Simmons said he believed the team would attract fans because they are usually quite competitive in the league and win quite a bit.

“With us, at the risk of sounding arrogant, we’ve won and have been successful, but we’ve never really had a home rink since we lost our ice in New York,” Simmons said. ” So this is really what we’ve been looking for, and it’s really important to us, too.”

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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