In June of 2014, America East chose Portland-based Shamrock Sports and Entertainment to develop their corporate partnership program.
Through that relationship, Shamrock Sports and Entertainment and the Maine Sports Commission made a successful bid to host the America East women’s basketball tournament this season and next year at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
It will be the first time ever that it will be held at a neutral site dating back to 1984-85.
It begins Saturday at noon with conference regular season champion New Hampshire (25-4 overall, 15-1 in America East) facing eighth seed Stony Brook (12-17, 5-11); fourth seed UMaine (16-15, 9-7) taking on No. 5 Binghamton (13-16, 8-8) at 2:30; No. 2 Albany (18-11, 12-4), the defending five-time AE tournament champion, meeting No. 7 Vermont (9-19, 6-10) at 6 p.m. and No. 3 University of Maryland-Baltimore County (15-14, 10-6) battling No. 6 Hartford (16-13, 7-9) at 8:30.
On Sunday, Saturday’s winners in the first two games will play at 2 p.m. with the games three and four victors meeting at 4:30.
The championship game is Friday, March 10, at 4:30 at the site of the highest seeded survivor.
“It was a team effort,” said Brian Corcoran, CEO of Shamrock Sports and Entertainment. “Someone had to put their neck out there. We were happy to take a calculated risk.”
The bid involved a $45,000 guarantee paid to America East for the first year and $60,000 for the second season because a play-in game will be added, he said.
Corcoran said the success of the UMaine women’s program, both on the court and as the league’s attendance leader, was an “encouraging” factor in placing the bid.
UMaine attracted 2,008 per game to lead the league last season and 1,765 to do so again this year.
Corcoran is hoping to attract at least 2,000 fans to each of the three sessions.
“I’m cautiously optimistic fans in Maine and across America East will come to the games,” said Corcoran. “America East has a stronghold in the northeast and most of these teams are within driving time of Portland.”
Six of the eight schools are within 275 miles of Portland.
Corcoran said their ability to attract corporate sponsors, led by primary sponsor Gorham Savings Bank, went better than expected and will help defray the cost of the bid.
Sheila Brennan Nee, the strategic director of the Maine Sports Commission, said “we’re very excited” about the tournament and the fact an event is coming to Portland for the first time.
Nee and the commission have put together a number of “fanfest activities” to engage the fans like cornhole (tossing bean bags onto a board with a hole in it), electric hoops and a station where fans can create posters supporting teams and players.
Matt Bourque, senior associate commissioner of America East and a Bath native, said the coaches and administrators in America East “thought Portland was the right size city, that Maine has passionate sports fans and it was the right size arena. They also liked trying a neutral site.”
He added that the city of Portland is an attractive draw in itself.
“Portland has a lot of great restaurants and plenty to do and see. You can walk virtually everywhere and everything is affordable. Even fans who are coming from a distance will enjoy Portland,” said Bourque.
He noted that having eight players from the state of Maine on America East rosters will be another valuable drawing card.
The list includes UNH seniors Ashley Storey (Cumberland), Kristen Anderson (Greene) and Sarah Clement (Falmouth); Binghamton’s Kristin Ross (Gorham) and Kylie Libby (South Portland), Albany’s Tiana-Jo Carter (Naples) and UMaine’s Maddy McVicar (Calais) and Sierra Tapley (Bar Harbor).
Portland city manager and former Boston Celtics assistant coach Jon Jennings and Portland mayor Ethan Strimling said the tournament will have a $2 million impact on the economy each year.
“Maine is one of the only states in the country that doesn’t have a significant national sports event, so to bring the national spotlight to Portland is a huge opportunity for us,” said Jennings. “And I prefer the women’s game to the men’s game because the women play the game the way it was meant to be played: working together, passing the ball, moving, playing defense.”
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our city and to be part of the national conversation,” said Strimling.
Coaches and players are looking forward to the tournament.
“It’s something different and it should be exciting,” said UMBC coach Phil Stern. “I know everyone in Maine really loves women’s basketball.”
“We’re thrilled,” said UNH coach Maureen Magarity. “Portland is a great city with great restaurants and a lot to do. And playing on a neutral court for the first time will be fun.”
“Maine people appreciate basketball. You can see that at high school tournament time,” said UMaine senior forward Sheraton Jones. “And having a lot of players in the tournament from Maine should draw a lot of fans.”