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
The Rime of the New 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.
Before the 2021 season, the Mariners entered into an affiliation agreement with the nearby Boston Bruins. The team has qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs in two of their four seasons of competition.
Food & Beverage 3
The city of Portland enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a foodie hotspot. Unfortunately, the concession experience at the Cross Insurance Arena is a notch or two below. The menus at the concession stands that line the outer edge of the concourse do not stray far from arena standards, consisting mainly of hot dogs, burgers, popcorn chicken, and pizza slices. A variety of snacks can be found at these stands as well.
Pepsi products are featured at the Cross Insurance Arena. In keeping with Portland’s reputation as a craft beer city, there is a stand run by local favorite Lone Pine Brewing, where several varieties of their outstanding beers, including their collaboration with the Mariners, Slapshot Session Ale, can be found. If craft beer is not your thing, national brands are also available for purchase throughout the arena.
For those fans who have followed Portland hockey since the old (AHL) days of packed houses and rowdy crowds, the game-day atmosphere for these Mariners may fall a bit short of expectations. However, the Mariners staff put on a good show, with lots going on to keep both the hardcore and casual fans happy.
Many of the elements that make up a typical minor league hockey game day can be found in Portland. There’s a decent-sized video board that hangs at center ice that is put to good use with graphics, game information, replays, and fan cams. There’s an emcee who coordinates giveaways and contests throughout the game, a PA announcer who adds energy to the atmosphere, and a mascot who roams around interacting with fans throughout the game. 50/50 raffles and chuck-a-puck contests give fans a chance to take home some prizes, and a team store with a good selection of Mariners gear. The introduction of the Bruins’ black and gold color scheme has proven to be very popular with fans.
Ask any seasoned minor league sports traveler about their favorite destinations, and Portland would rank at or near the top for many. 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 historic 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. While in Portland be sure to check out one of the outstanding craft breweries in town, as the city has become known as one of the nation’s best spots for local beer.
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.
For the 2022-23 season, the Mariners are averaging just a tad under 3,800 fans per game, which puts them right around the middle of the ECHL attendance rankings. This figure represents a large increase from the Mariner's initial ECHL seasons and can most likely be attributed to the new affiliation with the Bruins.
While in the AHL, the Pirates usually averaged between 4,000-5,000 fans per game. The Pirates’ last few seasons showed a drastic drop in attendance, which most likely resulted in the departure of the team. It’s nice to see fans returning to the CIA after years of decreased attendance.
Hockey fans in Maine, while maybe not large in numbers, are as passionate and dedicated as any in the nation. You get the best of both worlds in Portland. Fans who are friendly and welcoming to visitors while still being dedicated and knowledgeable about the home team.
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 ten 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.
Recent renovations to the Cross Insurance Arena made great strides in making the facility more accessible, widening concourses, improving flow, and modernizing restrooms and concessions. With the typical Mariners crowd failing to fill the building, 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 restrooms are minimal and move quickly with the smaller crowds on hand at Mariner games.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets for the Mariners game range in price from $18 to $28. Parking is available in several surface lots as well as the Spring Street garage adjacent to the Cross Insurance Arena for $10. There is plenty of on-street parking in the area as well, just be aware of when meters are in operation. Concessions are moderately priced for this level of hockey, making a night at a Mariners game an affordable entertainment option for southern Maine sports fans.
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 small cities to visit.
When the city of Portland found itself as a free agent in the minor hockey league world, there was no shortage of suitors to put a new team there. Even though the Cross Insurance Arena is a product of its time, it’s still a solid place to catch a hockey game. Being affiliated with the nearby Bruins will ensure that this version of the Mariners will be calling Maine home for a while.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.