The Portland Pirates have begun discussions to determine interest in bringing an Arena Football League team to the Cumberland County Civic Center, possibly by 2008.
"This is still very much an investigation," said Brian Petrovek, the CEO and owner of the Pirates. "It's one that we are carefully looking at, what the demand would be and what the interest would be."
The franchise would be part of arenafootball2, a developmental league for the Arena Football League. Afl2's 16-game regular season runs from April to August.
Started in 2000, it has 23 franchises, including teams in Manchester, N.H., Albany, N.Y., and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. - all American Hockey League cities that feature teams the Pirates play on a regular basis.
Petrovek said the Pirates' ownership previously looked at indoor soccer and indoor lacrosse - "We're always looking for ways to grow our business," he said - but the afl2, with franchises already established in fellow AHL cities, seemed like a natural fit.
The league is considered stable, with attendance increasing by 4 percent in the 2006 season.
According to statistics provided by the league, Manchester averaged 6,904 fans per game, Albany 5,305 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5,262.
"The question is whether the (Greater Portland) market is ready for another pro sports opportunity," Petrovek said. "If it is, I think perhaps indoor football may be an attractive proposition."
Start-up costs would be significant, with a franchise fee that could be around $600,000. According to an official in the league office, Afl2 franchise fees are determined by several factors, including market size, and could be as high as $1 million.
"It's not cheap, and obviously that would factor into any decisions we make," said Petrovek. "It's all part of what we are taking a careful look at."
The Pirates have begun preliminary talks with Civic Center officials regarding a lease, but both sides agree more discussions are needed.
"We're moving carefully and slowly," said Petrovek. "We want to make sure we're walking before we run."
There are many issues to be settled, and not just whether fans would attend an indoor sport during the summer, with the Portland Sea Dogs playing minutes away at Hadlock Field. Roller hockey and basketball have failed during summer seasons at the Civic Center.
"There would be some logistical challenges," said Steve Crane, director of the Civic Center.
One challenge would be where to store the flooring, padding and goal posts.
The game is played on a 17,000-square foot rug. There's another 2,400 feet of padding for the dashers on the hockey boards. And then there are the goal posts and netting. The Civic Center has limited storage capabilities.
"These are some of the operational issues," said Crane, who said it would cost about $175,000 for the rug and dasher pads.
Crane also wondered if the Civic Center had enough dates available for a second sports team. Should the Pirates make the AHL playoffs, the seasons would overlap. The Civic Center also hosts concerts and trade shows.
"We're still studying whether it's feasible," he said. "We're at the point where further discussions would be appropriate."
And that's fine with Petrovek. He said afl2 officials like to have their franchise roster set by Labor Day, making it unlikely Portland would have a team for the 2007 season.
"That's not to say if we moved aggressively we couldn't find a place at the table in '07," he said, "but we have no timetable. Our biggest concern is viability and feasibility."
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: