Taxpayers Spent $34 Million on a Minor League Hockey Arena. Two Years Later, The Team is Leaving

A regular reminder to never publicly finance pro sports teams' real estate.


Portland Pirates
Wikimedia Commons

Stop me if you've heard this one. 

A professional sports team threatens to leave a small to mid-sized city unless a publicly-financed arena is provided to them. Politicians sell the idea of spending millions of dollars on a speculative real estate project for a private company on the grounds that the investment will "pay for itself." The project becomes a money-loser and taxpayers are left holding the bag. 

It's an all-too-familiar tale of crony capitalism, and the latest victim of the worst suckers' bet in sports is the city of Portland, Maine. The picturesque port town was informed last week that its minor league hockey franchise, the Portland Pirates, would be breaking its lease two years after a $34 million renovation of the team's home, Cross Insurance Arena, was completed.

Voters approved the bond which financed what was then called the Cumberland County Civic Center in 2011, and according to the Portland Press-Herald, "The lease has provisions in the event the team breaks the agreement that limit the damages the arena can claim to $100,000."

The Pirates had the worst and second-worst attendance in the American Hockey League (AHL) in each of the past two seasons, drawing on average about 3,000 fans in an arena that seats over 6,700. The arena reportedly ran a $600,000 loss last year, which the taxpayers are also on the hook for. 

We have noted often here at Reason that professional sports arenas are almost always a detriment rather than a stimulus to local economies, and publicly-financed arenas are misbegotten boondoggles which enrich no one but wealthy team owners and politicians who live to be photographed holding shovels at sdium tagroundbreaking ceremonies. 

Watch Reason TV's doc on Hartford (Conn.)'s experience in subsidizing a minor league ballpark below. 

NEXT: Reason Wins 2016 Best Feature Maggie Award!

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  1. It’s time for them to bring in gun shows, monster truck rallies and REO Speedwagon concerts. They can fill a hockey arena with the same people who used to show up for the hockey games.

    1. At least a gun show provides a useful community service.

    2. and REO Speedwagon concerts

      Whoa now, don’t you think they’ve been punished enough?

  2. Wow. It’s too bad there’s not some history on this sort of activity that the town could have looked to to get some idea of the likelihood of success.

    1. What local politician has time to look at history when they’re being pampered by sports executives?

  3. I never wondered who fed the Florida Panthers. And now I know.

    1. scratch that. they were the feeder for the ‘yotes the past five years.

      and there’s this:

      The Pirates were forced to play their final game of the 2013-14 season at their 400-seat practice facility in Saco, due to the Colis?e being double booked with the game and a circus.

  4. So this team has gone from Baltimore, to Portland, and now Springfield. I’ve asked before but for whom are these teams supposed to exist? Can’t be the fans.

    1. There weren’t very many fans to be sure. Never made much sense to me why the Pirates weren’t more popular here. We have a AA baseball team and an NBA DL team and they both do very well.

      1. Well, I’m not surprised since they’ve only been there since 1993. These teams don’t build up any history before they’ve blown away to another town.

        I just don’t get why American sports fans are so complacent about their teams moving around all the time. That shit wouldn’t fly in many other countries.

      2. Yeah, but the Sea Dogs are a Red Sox affiliate, so there’s a natural fanbase. If the hockey team were a Bruins affiliate, I suspect they would have seen better attendance. Still no reason to pay for their facility.

    2. Yeah, the Falcons are leaving Springfield because of low attendance. Somehow bringing a new team in is going to fix that problem. Of course, locals are counting on the new MGM casino bringing in more visitors than before.

  5. If people arn’t going to learn….

  6. Someone has to say it: ban hockey.

  7. Are you single tonight? A lot of beautiful girls waiting for you to
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    1. Wanna go to a hockey game?

  8. What’s it called when you keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Oh, yeah, government.

    1. Government has been not working for something like 6000 years, so it HAS to start working soon!

      1. Government is the insanity we commit together.

      2. Any moment now the right Top Men will be in charge, and then it will work this time.

  9. They must all be removed from power, on every level of government!

    1. What, minor league hockey teams?

    2. The only people who benefit from a Robert-led revolution are the white walkers.

  10. Voters approved the bond…

    Dang you, voters!

    1. Voters are idiots. I got yelled at by a Braves fan who insisted that the money Cobb County is flushing down the toilet using to pay for the Braves new stadium won’t matter and the county will make gobs of money off the new stadium.

  11. Reggie Dunlop wouldn’t have stood for this!

    1. The arena Slap Shot was filmed in is on their third minor-league team in the last 6 years, after a $16 million bailout from the Commonwealth.

      But hey, at least the Chiefs only moved to SC, not Florida!

    2. No kidding! He would have turned his team into winners, by any means necessary, then he would have convinced the owner not to move… oh wait, shit.

  12. Any chance I’ll be reading this story in three years about the MLS stadium being built at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in St. Paul? It’s supposed to be the anchor point for a bunch of new housing and small retail. Currently the site has a strip mall on it (the stadium is actually going to be built where a bus barn for Metro Transit used to be). There was talk of some big box stores liking the site, which is right by Interstate 94, but the local leaders said we want something people will walk/ride mass transit to.

    1. but the local leaders said we want something people will walk/ride mass transit to.

      Of course the teams themselves want something people will drive to so the team can collect parking revenue.

      And of course the city would like a people to drive to something like a sporting/special event maybe once or twice a week instead of something like shopping where people will be going daily.

  13. politicians who live to be photographed holding shovels at sdium tagroundbreaking ceremonies

    What is “sdium tagroundbreaking”?

    1. A groundbreaking salt substitute that Bloomberg wants to ban.

  14. Dude, sometimes you jsut have to roll with the punches.

  15. Is the hockey team entirely to blame? Looks more like a general municipal boondoggle, as most of these projects are that HyR keeps trying to ascribe particularly to pro sports.

  16. Texas School District Votes to Build Totally Tasteful $62 Million High School Football Stadium…..adium.html

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