Credit: YouTube clip

Lee Goldberg, the longtime sports anchor at Portland NBC affiliate WCSH, was the first to break the surprising news Wednesday that the city’s local minor league hockey team, the Portland Pirates, are being sold and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts.

On Thursday, Goldberg has followed up on social media with additional news breaks that add to the drama.

Portland is an attractive minor league sports market, and Goldberg’s scoops jive with what a top Cross Insurance Arena trustee told me a few years ago, the last time the Pirates threatened to leave: That other hockey teams have been waiting on the outskirts, quietly gauging the opportunities here.

And now, less than 24 hours after he broke the news that there’s an opening, Goldberg is saying multiple teams are starting to emerge to kick the tires. But he’s also saying it’ll likely take until at least the 2017-2018 hockey season to get a new team in place.

Relocation of a sports team can play out in multiple ways. One is that a team is sold to new owners in a different city, and those new owners bring the franchise to wherever they are. That’s the case with the Pirates, who, according to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, are being purchased by a “broad-based local investor group” from his city.

Another scenario is that a team’s current ownership believes it can make more money somewhere new, and packs up to move to a place where the proverbial grass is greener without ever selling the franchise.

As has been widely reported over the last day or so, Portland has been home to an AHL team for all but two seasons since 1977. The city went without professional hockey in 1992-1993, the year between when the old Maine Mariners left and before the Pirates arrived, and in 2013-2014, when the team played in Lewiston during a lease dispute with its home arena.

Portland, which is also home to the Double-A baseball Sea Dogs and the NBA Development League Maine Red Claws, has been repeatedly named one the country’s best minor league cities in one or all sports — with ESPN, the Sports Business Journal, Baseball America and SmartAsset among those heaping on such praise.

This regional FOX Sports video clip features professional hockey officials talking about all the reasons they think Portland’s an ideal place to locate a team, and is worth a watch.

But Maine’s largest city isn’t without its problems.

Pirates Chief Operating Officer Brad Church told local ABC affiliate WMTW the cost of running the team here was outpacing its ability to make money. My colleague, Larry Mahoney, reported that after more than a decade and a half of reliable ticket sales of 4,000-plus-per-game, Pirates attendance had dropped down to around 3,000 per game over the last two seasons.

“It’s a business decision that unfortunately, I think most businessmen would make,” Church told WMTW. “Ownership made it clear a few years ago that the goal was to make this a sustainable business.”

The only team with worse ticket sales in recent years was Springfield. And that’s where the Pirates are now moving, after that city’s Falcons were picked for a move to Arizona.

pirates release
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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.