BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team may have experienced its lowest attendance in 22 seasons last winter, but things appear to be on the upswing for the Black Bears basketball programs.
Attendance was up nearly 28 percent for women’s basketball, while the men’s program enjoyed a 12.4 percent increase during the 2013-2014 season.
The numbers coincide with UMaine’s transition from playing most of its home basketball games at Alfond Arena, and a handful at Memorial Gym on the Orono campus, to the brand-new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“From a quality standpoint, it’s a great building and I hope it’s a part of our future for a long time to come,” said UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech. “It’s by far the best arena in the league, so to have that advantage will be a big key for our future.”
There likely was at least a small bump in attendance because of the curiosity factor associated with playing in the state-of-the-art $65 million facility owned by the City of Bangor and run by Global Spectrum. However, the resurgence of the UMaine women’s basketball team also appears to have been a factor.
Coach Richard Barron’s team, which improved to 17-15 during 2013-2014 after going 4-24 a year earlier, enjoyed a significant bump in attendance.
Women’s basketball, which attracted 11,112 fans to 10 games during 2012-2013 (1,111 per game), played in front of 21,247 spectators at 15 games last season. That is an average of 1,416, which is an increase of 305 fans per game (27.5 percent).
The season’s largest crowd last winter came on Jan. 5, when 2,373 tickets were issued for the first half of a women/men doubleheader. That date marked the high attendance of the season for the men’s basketball team.
Its announced crowd of 2,474 also included fans who arrived after halftime of the women’s game.
Despite posting a 6-23 record, its least successful season since 1956-1957 (6-14), the men drew an average of 1,359 fans per home contest in Bangor. The 14,946 who were tallied for 11 dates represented an increase of 12.4 percent (150 per game) over the previous season.
The men’s team also played two regular-season games at The Pit (Memorial Gym) against NAIA Fisher and America East opponent Albany. There, the Black Bears averaged 1,056 fans.
“I think the arena brings the ability for us to market it (basketball) in a whole new way,” Creech said.
“I’m confident that once we get people in that building, they’ll want to come back,” he added.
According to UMaine athletics spokeswoman Laura Reed, UMaine’s basketball attendance figures are derived using the number of tickets issued for each game.
That tally includes season tickets, advance and walk-up sales, and any complimentary tickets that were distributed to schools, groups or individuals. All are counted, whether they attended the game or not.
NCAA guidelines allow schools to calculate attendance by turnstile count, tickets sold or estimates.
The UMaine women ranked third among America East women’s programs in home attendance behind Binghamton (1,859 per game) and Hartford (1,446). The league average was 942 last season.
On the men’s side, the Black Bears ranked seventh among the nine teams at 1,312 fans per game. Only New Hampshire (457) and UMass Lowell (891) were lower.
The conference average for men’s basketball was 1,632.
The university is paying considerably more money for the use of the Cross Center.
Last fall, UMaine entered into a five-year deal with Global Spectrum under which it will pay $2,500 per game, plus expenses, for a total of $5,500 to $7,000.
The numbers for how much the athletic department earned during the first basketball season in Bangor are not yet available. However, in October former athletics director Steve Abbott said UMaine would need to attract 750-850 fans per game to break even on the arrangement.
The combined total for the two basketball programs last season was 1,392 per game.
“I love our relationship with the Cross Insurance Center,” Creech said.
“My intention is to stay right there with men’s and women’s basketball.”