This is the second of a two-part column. The first part was published next week. Mayor Gilbert was upset that MAINEiacs President Bill Schurman had implied that the City of Lewiston had not helped the team enough. See the first part of Gilbert’s column at www.TwinCityTimes.com. Go to the Digital Edition, then go to Archives to find the April 14 edition.
By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
The city had been losing some $500,000 a year as owners of the Colisée, and as mayor I advocated for its sale. We eventually sold it for $1 million to Jim Cain at Firland Management after no realistic proposals came in. We at least stopped the bleeding.
Just think, we have already saved nearly $2 million of taxpayer money that might not have been saved had we not sold the facility for the amount we did.
At a city council meeting when I was advocating for the sale of the Colisée, I also mentioned that we should re-negotiate the contracts with the MAINEiacs, as the team truly enjoyed a sweetheart deal that had the city locked in for some 15 years.
Shortly after, the MAINEiacs president asked me to step down as a board member of Lewy’s Legion, claiming that I had a conflict of interest now that I was mayor. It was easy for me to do, as insulting as it was, and it relieved me and my wife from volunteering to help the organization.
Despite this insult, after doing all I could to be of help to the organization, I was asked if I would attend a luncheon at the Cumberland Club in Portland with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Selection Committee to lure the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup competition to Portland because of its larger venue there.
I did so for the sake of the MAINEiacs organization, hoping to keep it financially healthy. I spoke French with the committee members. I felt we had an excellent proposal, but Rimouski got the nod.
Then last year, Alain Chaput, the team’s governor and father to MAINEiacs stars Stephan and Michael Chaput, mentioned to me about the possibility of hosting the QMJHL Draft here. He inquired about the number of hotel rooms in the area. I found that there were 700 hotel rooms. There was no further discussion.
Then one night at a game, I ran into Mark Just, principal owner of the MAINEiacs, who was coming down the stairs. He asked me in an authoritative voice, “Did Alain Chaput see you about the draft?” I said, “2010?” Again in an authoritative voice, he said “No, no. 2011.”
That was my first encounter with Just that year, and it was shortly after my re-election as mayor. I felt as though he was talking to me as a subordinate, when in fact I was a customer.
It would seem to me that a good businessman would have handled that with more tact. As a long-time customer, he could have said: “Oh, hello mayor. By the way, congratulations on your re-election. Has Alain Chaput talked to you about the draft?”
When Bill Schurman arrived in town and met with us city officials and the new minority owner Paul Spellman, a friend of mine, we told them that we couldn’t help them financially: the assistance the city provided had already put the city in great debt. We said we would do what we could to promote the team. The city’s web site has a link to the “MAINEiacs Corner.” On my personal blog, I have a link to both the MAINEiacs and the Colisée.
At the beginning of this season, I invited the entire team to come to a city council meeting wearing their uniform jerseys so that they would appear on local cable TV, all in an effort to give them publicity for the season that was starting. That is when they announced the team’s captain, and they had me present him with his captain’s jersey.
I try to promote the MAINEiacs every chance I get. No other business gets that type of public support from me. I have paid for many games that my wife and I were unable to attend, yet we kept our season tickets in support of the team because we would like it to succeed. I certainly do care about the team; as for the principal owner, that’s another story.
It is beyond me how an organization first attempts to leave a city and makes negative comments about its customer base, then when a deal to leave the city falls through, the team fails to apologize to its customers. Yes, the customers are the fans.
It is also beyond me how at the end of the season, the employees are terminated for the summer—a time when the organization should be aggressively pushing its sales commitment for the upcoming season. Then, when the start of the season comes, the team only employs some staff and attempts to operate with volunteers. This is expected to develop loyalty and success as a business? I don’t know of any other business that operates that way.
I find it troubling to have a majority owner like Mark Just, who in reality is an absentee owner: he lives in the Chicago area and only attends a few games a year. When he is here, he stays in the press box or near the MAINEiacs locker room. In contrast, the owner of the Colisée is in the front lobby, interacting with the customer base.
Sure, Bill Schurman is there, but he isn’t the owner. How can you expect that people will attend the games when the owner is absent?
In contrast, my son and I were season ticket holders for the Portland Pirates when they first came. Owner Tom Ebright and his wife Joyce would be at every game; they would sit in the same seats and both would wear Pirates jerseys. Tom had his age as the number on the back of his jersey. Since he passed away at a young age, his number has been retired.
Fans and players were both saddened at his untimely death. Both Tom and Joyce used to interact with the fans before the game and between periods. They had moved the team to Portland from Baltimore, and they moved with it. That was an ownership commitment to the community.
Now add the rumors that have been circulating about another potential move by the MAINEiacs. Canadian newspapers have alluded to the MAINEiacs management talking with officials in Summerside, Prince Edward Island—Bill Schurman’s hometown. There have been reports that the MAINEiacs team was brought there to look at the facility.
Other reports have been written in newspapers there that Bill Schurman was meeting with the mayor and others to talk about the value of having a QMJHL team there, along with a group of investors from Ontario Province who want to purchase a team. There have even been reports that the mayor there was offering a guarantee of $1.5 million in ticket sales to a team, that city councilors were opposed and that the fans for the Summerside Capitals don’t want to lose their team for a “Q” team.
I called Bill Schurman at the beginning of the year and told him the rumors I was hearing. He told me there were cities that were interested in the team and there were discussions, but nothing had been decided. He told me that if things changed, I would be the first to know. He is still telling me that.
How can you build loyalty here when year after year your fans are wondering if the team will be leaving? How can you get commitments for advertisements when businesses see attendance going down because of instability and lack of loyalty?
Even before the “Save the MAINEiacs” year, the team played an exhibition game in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. The fans are told that this is what teams do. Give me a break! Teams may go out of town for such exhibitions, but not to another country.
They go out of town to broaden their fan base, just like the MAINEiacs did with 500 fans at the Kennebec Ice Arena their first year. The Portland Pirates have played exhibition games at the Colisée and even in-season games here in an attempt to market themselves here.
I could go on and on. Rather than a two-week column on this subject, I could write a book. But I will spare you, the readers of this column.
I still love the MAINEiacs, and by that I mean the players. I truly enjoy the quality of the QMJHL, and I even like it better than the professional American Hockey League or National Hockey League. I love the intensity these young men play with. They are very nice young men to talk to off the ice. They are very polite and a true asset to the ownership and our community.
I am attending every playoff game that I can, and I hope they go on to win not only the league’s President’s Cup, but the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup. I would again kiss the cup, as I did when the MAINEiacs won it a few years ago and brought it over the border for the first time in its history.
As a fan, I am totally frustrated with the team’s ownership and management. I told Bill Schurman that I am no longer purchasing season tickets for my wife and me. I will attend the games that I can—if they are still here. I won’t be losing money by having tickets to games I can’t attend. Loyalty is a two-way street.
I hope the MAINEiacs stay here and somehow become successful; if they do that, it will be great. If they choose to move, it will be a business decision on their part. Lewiston will still continue to be an All-America City, and hockey will continue here, as it has since long prior to my birth and since I started watching games with my dad at the old St. Dom’s Arena when I was five-years-old.
Can hockey fans attend games here? Of course! I simply point to the high school championship game between Lewiston High School and Thornton Academy, when fans were hanging from the rafters and you had to be at the arena an hour before the start of the game to secure a seat. I am confident that we will continue to enjoy hockey here regardless.
To Bill Schurman and Mark Just, I say the government of the City of Lewiston has done its part and I, as both mayor and a fan, have done my part. To them I say, “It’s time for you to do yours, whatever and wherever that is.”
Just do it!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.