The Pirates and the Colisee hope to make that a yearly occurrence.
On Tuesday, the Pirates along with Maine Hockey Group led by Ron Cain, and Firland Management led by Jim Cain (no relation) announced a partnership that will eventually lead to a USHL – a Tier 1 Jr. Hockey League – franchise coming to the Colisee as soon as the 2013-‘14 season, but it also opens the door for the Pirates to make Lewiston a secondary home, expanding their brand, playing in a building where they will have an eventual ownership stake in the Colisee.
Pirates Managing Owner and CEO Brian Petrovek makes case that supply is far greater than demand for the ‘entertainment dollar’ in the City of Portland and by moving a ‘handful’ of games to the Colisee it would increase the demand for hockey in Portland, while meeting the demand for American League hockey in Lewiston; Maine’s second largest city.
“We’ve had experiences here (in Lewiston) in the past,” said Petrovek, “but I’ve said repeatedly since we purchased this franchise 12 years ago, we’ve always been challenged with 40 events of any kind. Now, we’re down to 38, but from a business perspective, 38 (games) in a market the size of greater Portland is too much supply. Remove the renovation piece out of the equation, and we just think (Lewiston) is a good place for us to play more games on a regular basis. Even with the renovated Civic Center in the not-too-distant future, which will be it will be important for the growth and strength of our company, we still think we’d be playing too many games in Portland. (Lewiston) is a market that we’ve been interested in for some time and now as we bring these other pieces into the equation in a relationship with (Firland Management). It just makes sense for us to be here on a more permanent basis and develop a closer relationship with this fanbase.”
The Colisee, who lost their primary tenant last June when Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League folded team operations, has played host to the Pirates in the past and they’ve often sold well, nearly filling the 3,650-seat facility. However, those games stopped in 2010 when the Pirates signed a new two-year lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center, which contained as part of the agreement an exclusivity clause, stating that the Pirates had to play all games at the Civic Center.
That lease is set to expire on April 30 and according Neal Pratt, Chairman of the Board for the Civic Center Trustee’s, while the county couldn’t prevent the Pirates from playing in Lewiston once the lease expires. Any games played in Lewiston under a new lease agreement would have to be taken into account financially.
“They don’t have a lease after this season so there is formally nothing we can say about that,” said Pratt. “But, to the extent that we enter into a new lease agreement with them, which we expect to do, we’ll have to make an allowance for that and figure out in both directions, the cost and benefits to both the Pirates and the County and make some accommodation that makes sense in the larger picture.”
Petrovek says the process to get those figures are underway as part of the current lease discussions.
“In an ideal world, we would like to have all 38 games in Portland, but the economics just don’t work,” said Petrovek. “Our communications with the County have been open and honest, over the last couple of months as the Civic Center pro forma has undergone revisions, in trying to find that sweet spot about the number of events over a certain period of time. I would say within the next couple of weeks we’ll have arrived at a point that will make sense for us and for the County in determining the number of games we should have at the Civic Center.”
“It’s comes down to supply. It’s as simple as that. Our supply in greater Portland is more than the demand, which is why we think this is such a good opportunity for us to have a presence here on the American League level.”
Petrovek says he’s not the only AHL team looking at this business model and that several other teams including those in large markets are watching the Pirates situation closely to see if might help them.
“Everyone is looking at supply in a way that they weren’t looking at five-to-ten years ago, even the stronger franchises in our league,” said Petrovek. “You just have to do that, if you can, and can have some sort of positive impact on growing your category in your marketplace like this will afford us to do, then it makes a lot of sense rather than just taking games away from your main building. That’s not the intent, to just take games away from the civic center for the sake of taking games away. We’ve got to find the sweet spot in terms of the number of games in Portland, and I think it’s 30-33, which is more than likely were we’ll end up.”
The Colisee’s current seating capacity is 3,650, which isn’t a concern for the Pirates as one of the numerous selling points being made is by having two buildings available it opens up the calendar to the hockey club and AHL schedule makers to balance the schedule, giving the Pirates more dates in February, March and April, which are prime selling months for hockey.
It’s also alleviates the pressure for both the Pirates and the Civic Center during those core month when the Civic Center has to book other events, leaving the Pirates to play three home dates in a 10-game span as they did last month.
“Capacity (in Lewiston) is perfect,” said Petrovek. “If I could get 3,700 every night at the Civic Center, I’d be happy. I don’t get 3,700 every night in Portland, but I think that I could get it (in Lewiston) six times a year. That six, seven, eight games works because it gives you that once a month kind of schedule, and when we have black out dates at the Civic Center it gives us that freedom to play a home game during a period where I don’t want to travel the team as much so I can call this a home game.
“February is brutal, it’s the Civic Center’s key month and I’ve got to respect that,” Petrovek added. “But, I don’t want to play three home games in the month of February. I want to play five so maybe I play two games in Lewiston and three in Portland. February, March, April is the core of my season. Everybody looks at our business as when the Super Bowl ends that when you start making (money), but when the Super Bowl ends I’m out of the building. I don’t want October dates. I want February, March, April dates. It’s a balancing act and the County understands that. I want them to have Disney on Ice, but you have to think about the anchor tenant too.”
The Pirates in the past have tried to purchase the Colisee, but we beaten out by current owner, Jim Cain, but with the Pirates, MHG and Firland forming a partnership that will lead to mutual ownership of the Colisee, it does raise the question of the Pirates trying to obtain ownership or manage the Civic Center in some fashion in the future.
“We’ve expressed interest in the Civic Center if the County was ever interested in a public-private relationship,” said Petrovek. “Ownership is better than being a tenant; it’s just the way you monetize things, controls cost and make the fan experience better so we’d like nothing better than to be able to get to that point… As we go through the pro forma with the 33 million renovation that may come back into reality again. We’ve got 33 million dollars to spend and now we’ve got to figure how to pay it back. It’s a mortgage. There is a debt service responsibility with the Civic Center, and it may force us and the county to look a different business relationship to cover that responsibility. It could be a variety of things, it could be management, or it could be food and beverage ownership. I think we and the County have realized that we need to have those discussions because the environment has changed now that we have a 33 million dollars mortgage that we’ve got to payback. It’s not free money.”
Pratt agrees with Petrovek that it might be something worth discussing, but it’s something that he wouldn’t label as an urgent need with the performance of the current management team at the Civic Center.
“I think our management has done a terrific job,” said Pratt. “The civic center is on a number of best midsize lists in industry publication around the county. With the increase in the magnitude of (the Civic Center renovation) we certainly are going to consider and look at management to see if tweaks are needed here or there. That is in no way being critical of (current management) now. We just need to examine everything to see if we need to make adjustments that reflect the changes, physically and economically that will be incurring to the building. It’s not something that I would characterize as urgent given the success that the building has had with the current management team.”
Petrovek believes, at the end of the day, he’ll get a lease that is fair to the Pirates and the county, and that the expansion to Lewiston will broaden the brand to the central Maine region and bolster his Portland base.
“We have a better understand of the situation and our economics and we understand what the County is going through as the landlord of the (Civic Center) and I really believe that we’ll come to a good mutual understanding over the next couple of weeks and we’ll continue to grow our business because there is no question that Portland is our home and we’ll be playing more than 30 games in that building the next couple of decades.”