Greely High players cheer during a 2018 basketball tournament game at the Portland Expo. This winter, the Class A and B South semifinals will move from Cross Insurance Arena to the Expo. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The Maine Principals’ Association is moving some of its boys’ and girls’ basketball tournament games from Cross Insurance Arena to the Portland Expo, a cost-saving move that officials and coaches say will provide a more exciting atmosphere.

The Class A and B South semifinals will be played at the Portland Expo, on Feb. 18 and 19. Traditionally, the semifinals were held at CIA, which will still be the site for regional finals on Feb. 21.

Class AA North and South semifinals and finals will be held at CIA. The Class AA and A state championship games will also be at the CIA, on Feb. 29.

“I just think that to look at all of these venues and what it costs to run a tournament there, we need to do that periodically,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham. “We’re not unhappy with any of these facilities. But it wouldn’t be prudent on our part if we weren’t looking at cost savings.”

The MPA is working with officials at both CIA in Portland and the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor – which are run by the same management company, Spectra – to find ways to cut costs.

“It’s a matter of us taking a look at every line item expense to ensure we have what we need to safely run the event, but with no extra cost,” said Melanie Henkes, the general manager at Cross Insurance Arena. “It’s just smart business there for both of us. There is definitely interest from both of us to put on a good event and for it to be a positive event for the players and their families.”

Henkes said she would “love to hold the entire tournament” at the CIA, but understands that is not possible. The size of the building is hard for smaller schools to fill.

Cross Insurance Arena has a seating capacity of 6,200. The Expo’s capacity is roughly 3,000.

“I think for the kids, the atmosphere at the Expo is typically much better,” said Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball coach Jim Ray. “It’s built for basketball, and the size of crowd we get there is more like the size we get in the regular season.

“I’m excited for that, for the quarterfinals and semifinals there. If they moved the championship game, it wouldn’t have bothered me. If it’s a tough ticket, so be it.”

Gerry Durgin, the MPA’s site director for the Portland basketball tournaments, said that might happen in future years. The MPA is considering having all Class A and B South games at the Expo, including the regional finals, although state championship games would continue to be played at CIA.

“It’s a possibility,” said Burnham. “I think just with the intimacy of the Expo and the excitement of the crowd being right on top. It’s louder, it’s a basketball facility, it’s exciting to play games there.”

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said talks have already begun to ensure the MPA has dates to hold the entire Class A and B South tournaments at the Expo. He said that while the G League Maine Red Claws play there, “at the end of the day it is a city-owned facility, home of the Portland Bulldogs. If the MPA asks, what a great opportunity it would be for us to be able to work with them and to make it affordable for them financially.”

Yarmouth’s Ashanti Haywood snags a high pass during a basketball tournament game at the Portland Expo last winter. The Expo’s capacity is less than half of that at Cross Insurance Arena, but the site provides a more intimate setting for teams and fans. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Burnham said it is difficult to say how much money the MPA will save by moving one day of games from the CIA to the Expo. Each venue that the MPA uses for its tournaments, including the Augusta Civic Center, has a different rental rate.

This year, it will cost the MPA $2,337 per day for the five days it rents the Expo, according to the city. Those fees includes staffing and operational needs support provided by the city.

In Augusta, the rental fee is $500 per day, Burnham said, along with a percentage of each day’s gate. That also includes all staffing and operational needs.

The rental fee at the CIA is about $2,700 per day, but that does not include the costs of staffing, custodial and ticket handling. In Bangor, at the CIC, the rental fee is $2,000 per day, but like Portland does not include additional staffing costs.

That’s why the MPA is negotiating to reduce those additional costs by perhaps using some of its own staff. “And I’m very pleased with their willingness to work with us,” said Burnham.

“This is a great event, something the community absolutely loves,” said Henkes. “It’s something we definitely want to have.”

Coaches agree that both sites have their advantages – Lake Region girls’ coach Paul True likes that fans are farther away from the court at CIA so that players can hear his instructions better – but that the Expo is a better basketball experience.

“The atmosphere is different at the Expo,” said Falmouth boys’ coach Dave Halligan. “You can have 3,000 people at the (Cross Arena) and it can still feel empty. You have 3,000 people at the Expo and it feels like it’s rocking.”

Greely girls’ coach Todd Flaherty and True were concerned that the teams in the South will be giving away a home-court advantage for state games if they played fewer games on the big court at Cross Arena.

“The more you play at one venue, the more comfortable your kids feel,” said True.

Gray-New Gloucester girls’ coach Mike Andreasen said he wouldn’t mind seeing the entire tournament played at the Expo. But, he added, playing on the big court at Cross Arena is special.

“It’s a big thing for the girls,” he said. “It means they made it to the Big Game.”


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