What kind of impact has the economy and a losing season had on the University of Maine men’s hockey attendance?
The answer is a 10 percent decline so far this season.
But Maine athletic director Blake James and hockey coach Tim Whitehead haven’t been surprised by the decline and are optimistic attendance will increase over the second half of the season.
“Given our record last season [13-18-3] and the economy this year, I’ve been very pleased with the support we’ve received,” said Whitehead, whose Bears have averaged 4,708 fans per game this season in comparison to the 5,231 they averaged a year ago.
They averaged between 5,183 and 5,505 the previous four seasons after averaging 4,898 in the 2002-2003 campaign.
The current attendance is a decrease of 523 per game over last year, which averages out to a loss of $10,460 each night based on a $20 ticket.
Games against Boston University, Boston College, New Hampshire and Vermont are $23 each.
Maine has only played one home game against those four teams so far: a 2-1 win over Boston College on a Sunday afternoon.
They still have two home games apiece with BU and Vermont and one with UNH in addition to Hockey East games against Massachusetts (1), UMass Lowell (1) and Providence (1). They also have a nonleague game against Atlantic Hockey member Bentley (Mass.).
“Traditionally, we get our best crowds against BU, BC and New Hampshire,” said Whitehead. “Every sport has its rivalries and those games draw bigger crowds.”
He added that when the weather is bad or the game is on television, that can hurt attendance, also.
Six of Maine’s nine home games have been televised.
The Bears, off to a surprising 10-5-1 start, 5-4-1 in Hockey East, despite being picked to finish ninth by the league’s coaches, have been skating 12-14 freshmen and sophomores on a regular basis, so Whitehead understands the skepticism.
“That’s a lot of money to see a bunch of young kids. But now that they’ve seen them in person and seen how hard the team plays, I think people will be excited to see them compete,” said Whitehead, who added that since the football and soccer seasons are over, more younger people will be able to attend.
“And our crowds are always stronger in the second half,” said Whitehead.
Maine has played four home games against lesser-known teams Niagara from College Hockey America and Union College from the ECAC Hockey League.
“We haven’t had the crowds we had hoped for but playing Hockey East teams will help,” said James. “And I think there’s going to be a lot of exciting things going on [in the second half]. We’ve got a great young team.”
Maine has had several promotions to try to bolster the season ticket base, including Friday night packages and Saturday-Sunday packages. They have also offered a $10 ticket price on a single-game basis to groups of 20 or more.
It costs $361 for a 19-game season ticket package and that includes the exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center on Jan. 2.
At $19 per game, that is cheaper than Maine’s three primary rivals.
UNH’s season ticket package is $451 for 19 games ($23.74 per game), BU is $450 for 21 games ($21.43) and Boston College is $340 for 17 games ($20).
Maine’s single-game tickets are also cheaper at $20 and $23, depending upon the opponent. UNH’s prices are $23-$25, BU’s range from $24-$26 and BC’s start at $26.
James said it is very important for the Bears to show an attendance increase in the second half since that revenue is vital in the funding of the program.
Maine is 6-2-1 at Alfond Arena this season, including a current seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1).
“I’ve been really pleased with how vocal the crowds have been,” said Whitehead. “They have really given us a lift. It makes a big difference in our results.”
“I firmly believe Alfond Arena is the toughest arena to play in and the most exciting arena in college hockey,” said Whitehead. “It’s like a little Fenway Park. We keep making little additions each year like the Shawn Walsh Center, the Hall of Fame, the new scoreboard and Plexiglas. It’s a fun place to be. The fans and the building contribute to a unique atmosphere.”
Maine’s next game at Alfond Arena will be Jan. 4 at 4 p.m. against New Hampshire.
Belcher 2nd in Buchanan voting
UMaine football player Jovan Belcher finished second in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Belcher, a senior defensive end from West Babylon, N.Y., received 15 first-place votes and 206 points to earn the highest finish in the voting for a UMaine player. Greg Peach, a defensive end from Eastern Washington (313 points, 39 first-place votes), won the honor.
Belcher, the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year, has this week been recognized as a first-team All-American by The Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Foundation.
Black Bears coach Jack Cosgrove finished 10th in the voting for the Eddie Robinson Award given to the best coach in the FCS ranks. Cosgrove, in his 16th season, directed an injury-plagued UMaine team to an 8-5 record and a berth in the NCAA playoffs.