The short answer: Probably not.
But while interviewing folks about what the Cumberland County Civic Center could bring in for a sports tenant in the absence of the Pirates hockey team (read more about that here), I found myself asking about arena football.
Neal Pratt, the chairman of the civic center board of trustees, has said in no uncertain terms that the board has seen interest by other sports franchises in the past and will revive those conversations now that the Pirates are settling in Lewiston.
As I went through my mental list of franchise sports that can be played in a civic center, I didn’t get far. There’s hockey, and that gets difficult because the Pirates would maintain their formal and informal claim to the territory under minor league hockey rules by playing in Lewiston. There’s basketball, but the city already has a Development League team, the Maine Red Claws, and that team already has a home at the Portland Expo.
Then there’s football.
Thanks to the wildly popular NFL, football is by many metrics the biggest sport in America, and you don’t have to go far to find a lit field full of fans on fall Friday nights in Maine. Arena football, which takes that popular game indoors and has enjoyed loyal success in other cities, could work in Portland, I figured.
When I talked to David Broughton, research director for the Sports Business Journal, though, he said arena football could be a difficult proposition.
Broughton said New England cities like Manchester, N.H., and Hartford, Conn., had arena football teams and couldn’t maintain them, despite much larger populations, arenas and corporate bases than Portland.
There are a number of leagues and teams around, but there is no more volatile a sports genre than indoor football leagues. A lot of them are in towns of similar size to Portland, but none of them are anchor tenants. They share their arenas with hockey teams. To replace a tenured minor league hockey team with a new indoor football team is not the best recipe for success for an arena.
The Arena Football League is the biggest name, er, arena football league of the bunch, but Portland has no shot at bringing in one of those franchises, Broughton said. Specifically:
Portland’s not getting an AFL team. Other than Spokane or Des Moines, which were grandfathered in, all of those other teams are in major league markets and major league arenas.
But over in the Indoor Football League, they’re expanding in 2014 to accept a team based in Bemidji, Minnesota (the Axemen, if you were wondering). Portland’s small, at about 66,000 residents, but it’s much larger than Bemidji, which has less than 14,000 people and a home arena that seats about 4,700. The civic center seats almost 6,800.
So if Bemidji can do it, maybe there’s hope for Portland.