Cross Insurance Arena – Maine Mariners
Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Cross Insurance Arena 1 Free Street Portland, ME 04101
Year Opened: 1977 Capacity: 6,733
Return of the Mariners
For close to forty years, the city of Portland was home to American Hockey League franchises. The Maine Mariners (1977-1992) and then the Portland Pirates (1993-2016) called the Forest City home. Four Calder Cups were won by Portland teams, and the city was a favorite of those who regularly traveled the AHL circuit. After a dispute over their lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center forced the Pirates to play the entire 2013-14 season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in nearby Lewiston, the team had returned to the newly renamed and renovated Cross Insurance Arena for two successful seasons.
In a move that surprised many, on May 4, 2016, the Pirates announced that they had signed a letter of intent with an outside buyer to sell and relocate the franchise. On May 23, the franchise was relocated to Massachusetts to become the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Over the next year four groups submitted proposals to the ECHL to fill the void in Portland. Comcast Spectacor, the operators of the Cross Insurance Arena and the Philadelphia Flyers, purchased the rights of the dormant Alaska Aces in June 2017 and relocated the team to Portland. The team name, the Mariners, was chosen from a field of five finalists, including Watchmen, Lumberjacks, Puffins and Wild Blueberries.
The new Mariners opened to a crowd of 5,291 in a 6-3 loss to the Adirondack Thunder on October 13, 2018, ending the city’s two year drought without a team.
Food & Beverage 3
Concessions at the Cross Insurance Arena don’t stray far from your arena basics. Burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders and sausage sandwiches can be found at several stands around the concourse. An assortment of snacks can also be found at the stands, including popcorn, pretzels, nachos and ice cream treats.
Pepsi products are featured at Cross Insurance Arena. In fitting with Portland’s reputation as a craft beer hotspot, local favorite Shipyard Brewery operates a stand that features six of their popular brews on draught, along with several bottled and canned options. If national brands are more your style, Budweiser and Coors Light can be found at stands around the facility.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about a visit to Cross Insurance Arena is the game day atmosphere. Once home to one of the more passionate fan bases in minor league hockey, Maine hockey fans appear slow to accept their new ECHL team. While they turn out in respectable numbers, the Cross Insurance Arena is now a very quiet place to take in some minor league hockey. It’s a far cry from the old days where boisterous fans would pack the barn for matches against the Providence Bruins and Hartford Wolf Pack.
All the elements of a typical minor league hockey game day presentation can be found here. A good-sized video board hangs at center ice showing game replays and crowd shots. Beacon, the team’s puffin mascot, works the crowd posing for pictures and interacting with the many children present. T-shirt tosses, giveaways, autograph signings and more add to the experience. Despite all this activity, the fans just don’t seem as invested as they once were. Hopefully this will change as the team settles in.
Ask any seasoned minor league sports traveler about their favorite destinations, and many would rank Portland at or near the top. The city has cultivated a reputation as a culinary and artistic hotspot, and one of the best small cities to visit on the east coast.
The Cross Insurance Arena is located between the downtown and Old Port neighborhoods in Maine’s largest city. Portland’s downtown is home to many fine museums, galleries, and shops, as well as several excellent dining locations. Visitors to the area will find the world-class Portland Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum, and the Maine Historical Society, along with many other entertainment venues within walking distance of the arena. Portland has attracted a diverse mix of young professionals, artists, and students. A walk along Congress Street will provide a glimpse of Portland’s modern culture mixed in with historical sites such as the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.
Walk down towards the waterfront through the Old Port neighborhood to find even more dining, shopping, and entertainment options. While the area remains a working waterfront, Commercial Street contains some of the finest restaurants in the nation. Maine is famous for its lobsters and other fine seafood, with the food coming right out of the ocean to your table. Even in the cold of a Maine winter, a stroll through the Old Port is worth your time.
For visitors who prefer a different type of shopping experience, the LL Bean Store is located 20 minutes north on Interstate 295 in Freeport. The downtown area is chock full of shops and eateries, and is an especially popular destination during the holiday season. Also located in the Portland area are several microbreweries that are worth a visit for any beer aficionado, such as the Sea Dog Brewery and Sebago Brewing Company. There are close to 20 different brewpubs in and around Portland that brew and sell their beers on-site.
Fans have been slow to warm to the ECHL Mariners after decades of competition in the American Hockey League. Near the end of their inaugural 2018-2019 season, the Mariners are averaging just under 3,000 fans per game, placing them in the bottom quarter of the circuit’s attendance rankings. This figure is a small decrease from the Pirates’ final two years in Portland, but a marked decrease from the team’s heyday, when they annually averaged between 4,500-6,000 fans per game.
A Mariners crowd is typical of other minor league crowds, as the team’s marketing is geared towards families. Mixed in with the die-hards are youth hockey teams, casual fans and families enjoying some affordable entertainment. Portland fans seem to be more reserved and quiet than they were during the days of the Pirates, as they seem to be taking a “wait and see” approach to the arena’s new tenants.
The Cross Insurance Arena is located in downtown Portland, and is fairly easy to get to via Interstate 295. Traffic in the area is generally light, and it doesn’t take long to access the downtown area from either the Franklin Street (exit 7) or Congress Street (exit 5) ramps.
There is plentiful on-street parking available within a several block radius of the arena for early arriving fans. The Spring Street Garage is located adjacent to the arena, and charges eight dollars for parking. There are several other surface lots in the area charging between $5 and $10 to park. Portland is a very walkable city, so if the weather is cooperating, parking farther from the arena is a viable option.
The renovations to the Cross Insurance Arena made great strides in making the facility more accessible, widening concourses, improving flow and modernizing rest rooms and concessions. With the typical Mariners crowd failing to fill the building to capacity, getting around the arena is not an issue. The infamous stairs on the far side of the concourse still exist, but the old shared lobby/ticket booth/concourse area has been expanded and separated, giving each its own dedicated space and relieving the congestion that made getting around so difficult in the past.
The seating area consists of individual folding stadium seats which feature excellent views of the ice from all points. Lines to concession stands and rest rooms are minimal, and move quickly with the smaller crowds on hand at Mariner games.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets to Mariner games range in price from $18 for end seats to $26 for seats at center ice. Purchasing tickets on game day will cost you an extra two dollars.
Parking is available in the Spring Street Garage right next to the Cross Insurance Arena for eight dollars, with surface lots in the area charging between five and ten dollars. There is ample on-street parking around the arena for those willing to search for it. Just be aware of the hours meters are in effect.
Concession prices at the Cross Insurance Arena are generally in line with other venues in New England. On Friday nights the Mariners offer $3-$2-$1 specials.
An extra point is awarded for the championship banners (although not the originals) from the original Mariners and Pirates hanging from the rafters. It’s a nod towards Portland’s long hockey history. The original Pirate banners line the walls of the Hall of Fame Club.
An extra point is awarded for the wonderful city of Portland and the fantastic neighborhoods surrounding the arena. It is no surprise that many sports travelers rank Portland as one of their favorite cities to visit.
It was quite shocking to many hockey fans when the Pirates were sold in 2016 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. After a break from hockey, Portland fans were rewarded for their patience with the arrival of the Mariners. Local fans have been slow to warm to the new team in a lower level, but the city of Portland remains an excellent destination for hockey fans, and the Cross Insurance Arena is an excellent addition to the ECHL circuit.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.