University of Maine basketball players Thursday got a glimpse of the arena they’ll be able to call home this season: the new, 5,800-seat Cross Insurance Center. They were rightly impressed.
The UMaine Black Bears basketball teams will play most of their home games and have many of their practices at the new convention center that’s also hosting Broadway shows, country star Hank Williams Jr., comedian puppeteer Jeff Dunham and Sesame Street Live in its opening season.
The arrangement allows UMaine’s basketball players first dibs on an arena after more than two decades as the secondary sport at the hockey-first Alfond Arena on the university’s Orono campus. There’s also a broader regional benefit to making Bangor a sports destination.
The Black Bears’ ability to use the Cross Center as the home arena for basketball teams happened to some degree by chance. Renovations at Memorial Gymnasium on the Orono campus weren’t going as planned last year. The improvements needed to transform The Pit into a modern basketball arena exceeded cost projections, and fundraising wasn’t on pace to cover it.
There will be a cost to the University of Maine to use the Cross Center — with which the Bangor Daily News has a $455,000 partnership — as its home base. UMaine’s deal with facility management company Global Spectrum will cost the university $2,500 per game. With expenses factored in, the total cost could add up to $5,500-$7,000 for each game. The university will be able to claim ticket sales.
But it was already costing the university to host basketball games at the Alfond Arena. Changing the hockey rink into a basketball court cost more than $3,000 a game. And there’s a strong potential for added benefit to the university from playing basketball near downtown Bangor.
Women’s basketball coach Richard Barron said the new arena is already helping with recruiting new players. “I think it says that we’re serious about basketball and it’s a wonderful place to see games,” he said. “There’s a ‘wow’ factor when we bring kids in.”
Plus, playing in a central location can make Black Bears basketball accessible to a wider segment of the region’s population, including many UMaine alumni, who can more easily get to the Cross Center than to the university’s campus. After the game, they can visit a bar or restaurant downtown.
And making the University of Maine’s Black Bear brand prominent in the Queen City can boost the university’s reputation as a cultural asset that’s integral to the broader region, and not just Orono.
When the University of Maine Museum of Art moved to Norumbega Hall in downtown Bangor in 2003, the art museum opened its doors to more people, and it found itself at the center of efforts to revitalize Bangor’s downtown. Today, corporate sponsorships allow anyone to visit the museum for free, and the museum is a regular stop on art walks that promote downtown.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to having a university team not play on its own campus. Student fans might be less likely to cheer on their classmates, especially if they have no easy way of making the trip from Orono to Bangor. So it’s in the university’s interests to get students to the Cross Center for home games. And it’s in Bangor’s interests to get those students to hang out in the city before or after the game.
There’s also the issue of performance. UMaine’s basketball team’s haven’t posted particularly strong performances of late. The men’s team went 11-19 last season while the women won just four games and lost 24.
We hope the allure of the new arena, either by boosting recruiting or simply by exciting the current Bears squads, can turn around the teams’ prospects.