BANGOR, Maine — Attendance for the Eastern Maine Classes B, C and D high school basketball tournament experienced a healthy increase during its first year at the Cross Insurance Center.
While exact final figures aren’t in yet, tournament co-directors Jerry Goss and Norris Nickerson estimated an increase of 2,000 over last year’s paid attendance of 39,929 for the 20 sessions of the Eastern B, C and D tournaments held at the Bangor Auditorium, which now serves as a parking lot immediately behind the new arena.
Goss said adding the multiple-session all-tournament passes sold to this year’s count could bring the final paid attendance close to 43,000, which would make it the best-attended Eastern B, C and D tourney since 44,166 paying fans turned out in 2002.
“I can’t necessarily put a finger on it, but you have to look at the new site and the matchups, and we had relatively good weather here overall,” said Goss.
This year’s Eastern B, C and D tournament attendance was highlighted by a paid attendance of approximately 4,200 that turned out for the Eastern Maine Class B championship games on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 22.
That doubleheader, which matched the Old Town and Caribou boys teams and the Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Presque Isle girls squads, is believed to be the largest single-session paid attendance for the Eastern B, C and D event in more than a decade, surpassing the 3,957 that turned out for the same session in 2013.
And this year’s Eastern B finals were surpassed by a throng of more than 4,400 paying fans for the Class B state finals held last Friday, a crowd Goss said was spurred in part by the presale of more than 1,300 tickets at Mount Desert Island and Old Town high schools, the Eastern Maine representatives in the games.
The largest single-session paid attendance for this year’s tournament statewide was the reported 4,576 at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center last Saturday night for the Class A boys state final between Portland and Hampden Academy.
Maine Principals’ Association executive director Dick Durost said overall attendance for the Western Maine Classes A and B tournament games in Portland was down from a year ago but comparable with two years ago, the last time the Class A state finals were held there.
He added that attendance for the Eastern A and Western C and D tournaments at the Augusta Civic Center also dipped slightly this year.
But organizers in Bangor were all smiles with the debut of tournament basketball at the Cross Insurance Center.
“It was probably the best tournament I’ve been involved with as far as the smoothness of operation,” said Goss, who has worked at the tournament in various capacities for more than a decade.
Goss, Durost and Nickerson cited the cooperation among tournament staff, the Maine Principals’ Association and Global Spectrum, operator of the Cross Insurance Center, as pivotal to the transition.
“I could not be more thrilled with how things turned out,” said Nickerson. “I’d like to thank Global Spectrum in particular for everything they did. They bent over backward anytime we needed anything.”
Mike Dyer, now general manager at the Cross Insurance Center after serving in the same capacity at the Bangor Auditorium, similarly was pleased with the flow of Tourney Week 2014 at its new locale.
“We felt everything went very well. Obviously there are things we can tweak, and when we meet with the [Maine Principals’ Association], we can talk about those things and set anything we need to tweak into motion,” he said.
“But it was a lot easier to clear the building between sessions, we were able to hold more people waiting for the next session inside the building and out of the elements, and the atmosphere in the arena was better than even I expected it to be with the crowds at the games. The environment was great, and you could feel the excitement in the arena.”
Dyer said concession sales were up 43 percent (or $170,000) from 2013, and he attributed that increase in part to easier access to concession areas, a price increase for some items, more concession stations and a wider variety of offerings.
“Overall the bulk of the feedback has been great, very positive,” he said. “I personally did not hear one person say ‘I miss the old barn.’”
Concerns about the overall tournament atmosphere and level of crowd noise at the more spacious new arena compared to the lively character of the Bangor Auditorium were alleviated somewhat by the physical set-up of this year’s event, according to tournament officials.
“Having the bleachers at one end for the bands and the cheerleaders and the riser at the other end for the media closed things in and kept the noise in almost like the old auditorium,” Nickerson said.
Nickerson said he hoped organizers could work to improve the flow of fans into the facility next year, noting that during the especially large sessions, the ticket lines extended into the parking lot.
Traffic outside the building also drew some fan complaints, but that issue is not limited to tournament week as evidenced by a previously scheduled public comment session to be hosted by the City of Bangor at the Cross Insurance Center on Thursday evening concerning how to improve parking and traffic around the arena and its surrounding neighborhoods.
“When you have X thousands of people arriving or leaving an event at more or less the same time, you’re going to have some traffic,” said Dyer.
Durost said site directors from the various tournament venues around the state and other officials will convene in the next couple of weeks to discuss this year’s event, and the Maine Principals’ Association basketball committee will hold a similar discussion at its next meeting in early April.
In the interim, Bangor tournament officials already are looking toward 2015.
“For the first chapter of the Eastern B, C and D tournament at the Cross Insurance Center, we’re off to as good a start as we could have hoped for,” said Goss. “We’re looking ahead to next year, and we feel like we’ve got a footprint that we can go forward with.”