May 23, 2018
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UM sacrificing Alfond Arena ticket revenue in exchange for comfort

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

University of Maine athletic director Steve Abbott and the Alfond Arena renovation’s building committee had to make a difficult decision pertaining to the lower bowl seats in the facility.

To make the seats wider and more comfortable and keep the same incline during the current renovations, it meant the elimination of approximately 400 seats, according to UMaine associate athletic director for internal operations Will Biberstein.

Based on an average ticket price of $20 per game, that is a potential lost revenue of $8,000 per game if Maine fills the arena for a men’s hockey game.

With an average of 17 home games per season, that works out to a potential per-season loss of $136,000.

But that is based on sellout crowds of 5,445 per game.

The Maine men’s hockey team averaged 4,928 fans per game a year ago and 4,291 two years ago.

“There were a bunch of trade-offs we had to make,” Abbott said. “We could have kept more seats in there if we flattened out the pitch (incline) in the lower bowl of seats. But it would have been more like a baseball stadium and we weren’t willing to make that trade-off.

“That was the crucial decision. By flattening out the pitch, the fans wouldn’t have as good a view and it wouldn’t have been as good an atmosphere. The fans wouldn’t have been right on top of (the players) like they have been (and will continue to be),” he said.

Abbott believes the loss of seats will be “closer to 300” rather than 400 after everything is said and done.

Work on the 35-year-old arena’s $4.85 million renovation project began in May. The planned improvements include a high-efficiency ice chiller system, a new concrete floor, upgraded seating and aisles in the lower bowl, a ducted dehumidifier system, an upgraded electrical system and generator and new dasher boards and glass.

Abbott said he and the building committee looked at 15 different seating configurations for the bowl before deciding on one.

“The priorities were atmosphere, the (comfort) of the fans and the sight lines,” said Abbott.

Last February, a story published in the Wall Street Journal listed Alfond Arena as the rink with the “best atmosphere” in college hockey and Abbott said it is very important to maintain the atmosphere.

As for the sight lines, he explained that if they had flattened the bowl seats “instead of (fans) being higher than the person in front of them, they would have been tucked between their shoulders and barely over the top of their heads.

“With baseball seating, because the field is further away, it doesn’t matter. But if the action is right in front of you like in hockey, it matters a lot,” said Abbott.

“You have to keep up with the times,” added Abbott. “The seating we had was fine for 1977 but not fine for 2011.”

Maine head hockey coach Tim Whitehead agreed with the decision.

“It’s worth it. We want to do something for the fans. Quite frankly, the 1977 seats aren’t cutting it any more. You need wider seats, wider aisles and more comfortable seating,” said Whitehead. “This will improve the quality of the experience for the fans and will help us in recruiting.

“If people are paying $20 to watch a game, you want to make sure they all have nice seats with a nice view,” Whitehead said.

Led by the Portland firm Wright-Ryan Construction, crews expect to have the facility ready for the Black Bear women’s hockey team season opener scheduled for Sept. 23.

As they wait for the work to be completed, UMaine’s hockey teams won’t be relegated to using roller blades for their workouts during the first half of September. Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer is open and the Bears will be able to get in their skating at that facility in the meantime.

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