There won’t be any fans in the seats at Memorial Gym in Orono this weekend when the University of Maine women’s basketball team entertains America East newcomer the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
But there will be some faces in the stands.
Borrowing an idea from other leagues across the country, photo cutouts of fans will be on display for all of UMaine’s remaining men’s and women’s basketball game games.
The effort is part of UMaine’s “Pack the Pit” promotion, which seeks to provide a more engaging backdrop for home games and raise some money.
Fans can pay $50 to have their cutouts on display and, for an additional $25, can have their photo signed by team members and coaches as a souvenir at the end of the season.
The UMaine women host NJIT at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The money will go to UMaine athletics and the Alfond Fund.
The addition of more friendly faces in the background at The Pit should help liven up the facility. Fans and media members aren’t allowed to attend games at The Pit on the Orono campus due to the state-imposed COVID-19 restriction of 50 persons for indoor gatherings.
“We want to keep people engaged and want to make the student-athlete experience as positive as we can,” said Tyson McHatten, UMaine’s senior associate athletic director for external operations and communications.
“We want to try to make the most of the situation,” he said. “We wanted to create an atmosphere in The Pit. We’ve having fun with it.”
The promotion began on Monday and McHatten said UMaine sold 40 fan cutouts on the first day and 16 more on Tuesday, bringing the total to 56.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” McHatten said.
The photo cutouts will remain on sale throughout the season.
McHatten, assistant director of marketing Ronald Gillis and director of ticket operations Logan Desmond began surveying the sports landscape in August to see how other leagues like Major League Baseball addressed the issue of not having fans in their facilities.
“But we had to make sure we were going to be able to have home games to finalize the plans,” McHatten said.
Due to state regulations and COVID-19 cases, UMaine’s first two home games of the 2020-2021 academic year were held last weekend. The men’s basketball team earned a split of its America East series against archrival the University of New Hampshire.
McHatten said their home games will include music and a public address announcer. The music will consist of a variety of hit songs and some other favorites recorded by the UMaine pep band that it usually plays at games.
“We’re trying to keep the traditions alive,” he said.
UMaine also has placed microphones around the gym so fans listening at home can hear background game sounds such as the squeak of sneakers on the court. Fans can watch the live stream telecasts at goblackbears.com or listen to the radio broadcasts on 96.1 FM and/or 94.1 FM radio.
Fans interested in purchasing a cutout can do so at goblackbears.com(.) They will receive a confirmation via email that will contain a link via which they can access UMaine athletics’ photo submission page.
Photos, which must adhere to specific guidelines, will then be printed and placed on the rigid cutout at the UMaine print shop.
Any questions can be directed to 207-581-2327 or via email at email@example.com