BANGOR, Maine — Baseball and mixed martial arts are seemingly two vastly divergent sporting interests.
Baseball is decidedly old-school, a traditional athletic rite of passage for youngsters spanning generations.
Mixed martial arts is definitely new-age, a recently developed combative concept featuring a blend of fighting disciplines that continues to grow in popularity — particularly among those age 18 to 34.
Yet the convergence of those two sports on Saturday may make for an unprecedented amount of international attention for the Queen City.
Not only will players and families from around the world descend on Mansfield Stadium to crown Little League Baseball’s world championship team for 15- and 16-year-olds that afternoon, but a fight crowd with similar global roots will flock to the Cross Insurance Center that night as the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the major league of mixed martial arts — stages a show in Maine for the first time.
Both events will be broadcast live to international television audiences, the Senior League World Series final at 2 p.m. on ESPNU and UFC Fight Night 47 at 10 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
“Short term, these two events are creating a lot of excitement and energy in the city. Hotels are filled, restaurants are busy, there are all kinds of people around town. It’s great for Bangor,” said Ben Sprague, chairman of the Bangor City Council.
“Long term, these types of events show people that there really is so much going on in the community. While not everyone might be a baseball fan or a UFC fan, it is nice to know there are things happening. That energy is great for a region that really has some serious economic challenges right now. Hopefully these types of things will continue happening in Bangor, and all of that economic activity associated with them can only be good.”
The Senior League World Series has been a staple of the summer season in Bangor since 2002, annually drawing teams and fans from Latin America, Europe, Canada and Asia-Pacific as well as five U.S. regions that this year are represented by Hawaii, Texas, Virginia, Michigan and Connecticut.
“It’s definitely significant,” said Kerrie Tripp, executive director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s been so long in this community during the month of August since we haven’t had the [American] Folk Festival or the Senior League World Series.
“Those two events started the same year and were a catalyst for so much change in our community that people would be hard pressed to remember what the numbers actually looked like for hotels, restaurants and other attractions before then compared to what they are today,” she said.
The UFC’s presence in Bangor resulted from a specific relationship — UFC President Dana White is a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who still has relatives in the area and a home in Levant.
“I’m excited to come back to to Bangor,” he said during a recent interview, “and I’m excited to have a huge economic impact on the city. This has been a huge thing for me. I’ve been trying to get this thing done for a long time. I finally got it done and can’t wait to do this.”
White’s interest in bringing his promotion to Bangor coincided with the presence of the city’s Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway complex and the opening of the Cross Insurance Center last September.
“Certainly Dana White’s connection to Maine and this area was a huge help,” said Joe Imbriaco, general manager of the Cross Insurance Center. “One of the biggest factors, obviously, was his want and willingness to be able to bring the product here.”
Imbriaco sees having the televised mixed martial arts event at the arena as a boon not only to the facility but the entire city.
“Advertising costs money, and the ability to raise your profile is important, and the UFC has almost 700,000 people that watch their Fight Night shows,” he said. “So to some extent just by them taking the opportunity to come here, that’s giving not just the Cross Center but the city of Bangor at least a half-dozen to a dozen mentions of the city’s name and the facility’s name in the broadcast. That’s certainly relevant to raising our profile across different platforms for different sporting events, and hopefully, different people that will watch the show and think of us for other entertainment.
“And certainly when you look at the names of the other cities that UFC takes its Fight Night show to, we find ourselves in pretty good company,” he added.
Imbriaco hopes a successful staging of UFC Fight Night 47 will help the new facility as it pursues future events.
“You want to build a history of references to be able to point to when people ask you whether or not you’ve done high-profile events and what that may lead to — not specifically that we’re doing anything like this at this point, but we certainly would like to go after events like Olympic Trials and other rotating national sporting events that are televised,” he said.
“But this can be a great reference point to show that an internationally televised event is certainly within our capabilities here,” he noted.
Tripp said it would be difficult to pinpoint the direct economic impact of having both events in the city on the same day, in large part because the summer tourism season typically is a busy time of year for the local hotel and restaurant scene.
“We do have some sellouts already,” she said. “Some of them have to do with the Senior League World Series, some of them have to do with the fights, and some of them just have to do with plain old tourism.
“It’s kind of this great convergence, though, and then in the middle of that we have Disney on Ice, so there are a lot of great things going on. Then we bump right out of that into the folk festival [on Aug. 22-24],” she said. “This is just a really great time to be in this region.”
Tripp said additional benefits from the Senior League World Series and UFC are more subtle, ranging from the frequency with which the city is mentioned during the telecasts to when the words “Bangor, Maine” are within camera range on the Mansfield Stadium backstop.
And it’s of utmost importance, she added, to help ensure that those who have traveled to Bangor for the Senior League World Series or the UFC — the latter with an entourage of staff and fighters totaling more than 300 — have an enjoyable experience.
“Our best bet is to help make sure people find what they need while they’re in town,” she said. “When the [Senior League World Series] families come here, they’re not always going to be at the field, so we want to make sure they have information available with ideas of fun stuff to do with their families or as a team during their down time.
“And it sounds silly, but it’s important to make sure the people that are doing the commentary are happy while they’re here because if they’re talking about Bangor and they’re smiling while they’re saying the word, that’s a great perception to have out there,” she said.