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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Portland Exposition Building - Maine Celtics

Photo by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Portland Exposition Building 239 Park Ave Portland, ME 04102

Year Opened: 1914 Capacity: 3,100


Ten Years of the Crustacean Nation

The Portland Exposition Center, known locally as “The Expo”, is part of a larger sports complex that includes Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Portland Ice Arena, and Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Expo also serves as home to Portland High School basketball teams, track events, trade shows and has hosted concerts by artists as diverse as Natalie Merchant, the Monkees, the Beach Boys, James Brown and Janis Joplin. Built in 1914, it is the second oldest arena in continuous operation in the United States, behind only Matthews Arena in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Maine Red Claws are the NBA G-League affiliate of the Boston Celtics. The team has called the Expo home since their inaugural season in 2009. The team’s unique name is a tribute to both the local Maine Lobster industry and longtime Celtics’ coach, General Manager and President Arnold “Red” Auerbach. The Red Claws have qualified for the G-League playoffs four times in their ten seasons, making it to the second round once.

For many years the buzz was that the team was just biding time at The Expo until construction of a proposed arena at Thompson Point was finalized. While team officials have not necessarily ruled out a move in the future should the development materialize, plans for a new facility are “not imminent.” The team signed a pair of five-year leases to keep them at The Expo until 2029.

Food & Beverage 3

The concession stands at the Expo feature decent variety for a small venue. Pizza slices, hot dogs, burgers, popcorn chicken, sausage subs and chicken Caesar wraps make up the menu. Assorted snacks, including popcorn, pretzels, nachos and french fries can be found here. Red Claw fans with a sweet tooth can select from flavors of local favorite Shaker Pond ice cream, or “Hoopie Pies,” the Red Claws’ version of the famous Maine Whoopie Pie.

Coca-Cola products are featured at the Expo. Fans looking for an adult beverage can choose from Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Shock Top and Goose Island, along with wine.

In addition to the main stand near the lobby, there are a pair of portable stands in the back of the Expo. These carts feature most of the items available at the main stand.

Atmosphere 4

While today’s fans may be used to the creature comforts and constant distractions of modern sporting facilities, the old-school sensibilities of the Expo provide a nice contrast while still providing plenty for Red Claw fans to do.

Veteran minor league sports fans will find a lot that is familiar here, from the entertaining mascot and dance squad to the MC roaming the stands and directing the activities during play stoppages. One of the highlights of the evening is the lobster pot toss, which is similar to a chuck-a-puck contest. Fans toss softee basketballs into a lobster pot placed at center court to win prizes.

Nostalgic fans may enjoy the small dot-matrix scoreboard with the tiny video screen on the far side of the gym, but make no mistake, this is a busy gameday presentation. There is plenty going on to entertain any casual fan in attendance.

Neighborhood 4

The Expo is located in the Parkside neighborhood of Portland, adjacent to Deering Oaks Park and Hadlock Field. There are a few restaurants and hotels in the immediate vicinity of the Expo, but most travelers to Portland will head downtown, just a short drive away.

Portland has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best small cities to visit in the northeast. It boasts a vibrant arts scene, top-notch museums and a reputation as an outstanding culinary city. The downtown and Old Port neighborhoods are known for their number and variety of great restaurants. As you might expect, some great seafood can be found around Portland, as the food comes literally right out of the ocean and onto your plate. During the summer the city is a mecca for outdoor activity. While these options decrease during the cold winter months of the basketball season, the city remains a top New England destination year-round.

If shopping is your thing, there are numerous small shops located throughout the Old Port. If you don’t mind a short drive, the L.L. Bean store is located 17 miles to the north in Freeport. The Maine Mall, the largest shopping center in Maine, is located in nearby South Portland.

Fans 4

You wouldn’t think it, but basketball plays an important part in the Maine sporting scene. The Red Claws have been a hit since arriving in Portland ten seasons ago. The Red Claws sold out two entire seasons at one point in their history. While crowds have dipped a bit since then, the team still averages about 2,500 fans per game. Weekend games attract near-capacity crowds.

Similar to other minor league sports, the Red Claws market themselves as family friendly entertainment. A typical crowd at the Expo consists of a good mix of die-hard fans, families and youth teams. There’s a lot of energy in the stands of a Red Claws game. The affiliation with the nearby Boston Celtics certainly doesn’t hurt.

Access 3

The Expo is easy to get to, located just off of Interstate 295. If coming from the south, take exit 5 (Congress St.) or if driving from the north, take exit 6A (Forest Ave.). The Expo is located in the Portland Sports Complex, alongside Hadlock Field, the Portland Ice Arena, and Fitzpatrick Stadium. Parking is available in several lots in and around the facilities, as well as in the Congress Street Building Garage a couple of blocks away. There is plenty of on-street parking on the streets around the Expo, but pay attention to the signs in the area, as there are restrictions.

Fans enter The Expo into a small lobby, where they must pass through a security checkpoint before proceeding to the arena. Also located in the lobby are the restrooms and a beer stand.

After passing through the lobby, fans will enter into the arena behind a set of bleachers. To the right is located the snack bar and to the left is a small souvenir stand. A single walkway on floor level provides access to the seating area. The constant flow of traffic along this walkway will obstruct your view if you sit in the first few rows, so selecting seats higher up is recommended. The center court sections feature individual seats, with the remainder of the seating consisting of molded bleachers.

The Expo has a real old-school feel to it. While this may trigger nostalgia in some fans, the tight quarters may be a nuisance to others.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets to Red Claws game start at $8 for end zone tickets and max out at $32 for center court tickets. The majority of seats at the Expo can be purchased for under $22. Parking in the lots next door to the Expo costs $10. There is free on-street parking in the neighborhood around the facility, but pay attention to street signs, as there are day and time restrictions.

With affordable concessions, a Red Claws game is an affordable entertainment option for southern Maine sports fan.

Extras 3

The Red Claws display banners honoring every player who has played for the team who has been called up to the NBA. There are also banners honoring players who have won league awards while playing in Portland. Unfortunately, they haven’t been updated in a little while.

An extra point is awarded for the family friendly atmosphere at the Expo, including a packed promotional schedule and freebies for the younger fans in attendance.

A final extra point is awarded for the historic Expo itself. The second-oldest gym in the country may have some issues with access and the facility itself (Two games in 2018-19 have been delayed or postponed by a leaky roof), but the intimate setting makes for a great place to catch a game.

Final Thoughts

The NBA G-League is full of many unique arenas, and the Expo would certainly be near the top of that list. The second oldest gym still in use in the country may be cramped and show its age from time to time, but it’s packed most nights with Maine hoops fans who wouldn’t want to watch their basketball in any other place.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.

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