Attendance at Portland Pirates games has averaged 3,942, just over half the capacity of the Cumberland County Civic Center.

LEWISTON – Fans of the Lewiston Maineiacs know season-ticket holder Mike Haggett. He attends each game atop Section 32 of the Colisee, wearing a white jersey and a trademark cowboy hat.

“I’ll hoot and holler and yell at the officials,” said Haggett, who typically drives to the arena directly from his job as an auto parts seller in Portland. For a quality hockey team, he said, that’s what he does.

Such devotion to Lewiston’s new team appears to be building, says Matt McKnight, the Maineiacs’ vice president and governor. With the post-season about to begin – the last regular game of the first season is scheduled for Friday – team staffers are already predicting better attendance next year.

Meanwhile, Maine’s only professional hockey team, the Portland Pirates, is slashing ticket prices and stepping up its marketing in hopes of filling its empty seats.

Attendance at Portland Pirates games has averaged 3,942 each game, just over half the capacity of the 6,733-seat Cumberland County Civic Center, according to Dave Ahlers, the team’s spokesman.

Last week, the team cut the price of nearly 3,000 seats to $6 apiece. Before, they cost $9.

It won’t be enough of a change, said Haggett, a former season-ticket holder with the Portland team. Fans won’t follow a team if it loses too much, he said. Currently, the Pirates are ranked fifth of seven teams in their division.

Besides, the games in Lewiston can be more fun to watch, Haggett said.

In Portland, players are all working under contract to the parent organization, the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League. Some players are headed up. And some are coming down.

It shows in their play, said Haggett, who spent two years as an intern for the team, performing such jobs as promotions and escorting corporate clients.

By contrast, members of the Maineiacs are younger and far hungrier, he said. The Maineiacs belong to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, also a feeder to the NHL. However, all of its players are between the ages of 16 and 20.

“It’s raw talent,” Haggett said. “It’s the creme de la creme of the best young talent in Canada.”

As long as Maineiacs leaders show respect for the team they’re putting on the ice, crowds will grow, he said.

McKnight, the Maineiacs VP, believes season-ticket sales will go up next year by more than 50 percent, from 955 this year to at least 1,500 next season. People who bought two seats this year, at $420 each, tell him they plan to buy four next fall.

If that comes true, it should spike the overall attendance number. This year, the average attendance was 2,050. McKnight hopes it will climb to 2,800 or higher.

And if that happens, the team will finally make some money, he said. As expected for a debut year, this season will finish in the red.

“We’re going to lose a pile of money this year,” McKnight said.

If the Maineiacs draw larger audiences, Pirates officials believe it won’t happen at their expense. According to a just-released market study, about 15.8 percent of Pirates ticket-buyers come from the entire region north of Portland, including Lewiston-Auburn.

Those numbers have gone relatively unchanged for years, said Brian Petrovek, the Pirates’ managing owner and CEO.

And though it may cost less to attend games in Portland – Tickets for the Maineiacs cost $13 each – McKnight believes that won’t be a problem.

The price is set entirely by the cost of operating the team, about $1.6 million this year, and the number of seats in the arena, about 3,700.

“If we charged $6 a seat, we’d go broke,” McKnight said. “At this price, we can put out a good product.”

People will come, he said, and the area can support the new numbers.

“Our primary audience is right here within 10 minutes of the Colisee,” McKnight said. “There’s 110,000 people in this area.”


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