To the Editor:
It is growing increasingly difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch the figurehead of the City of Lewiston publicly bash one of this region’s best assets. In the past two editions of Twin City TIMES, Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert has thrust a negative spotlight on himself, the city and the MAINEiacs.
There is no questioning Gilbert’s love of hockey and of these players. There can be no questioning his passion and pride for the City of Lewiston. However, this latest temper tantrum has gone too far.
His sentiments certainly do not represent my views as a MAINEiacs fan, and I know that he definitely does not speak for others. As a former contracted employee for the MAINEiacs this past summer, I can shed a few insights that many people, including Gilbert, may not be aware of.
It is no secret that the MAINEiacs are struggling financially. The fans know it, the management acknowledges it, and the city is well aware of it. While a number of teams in the QMJHL operate with larger budgets, newer facilities and a deeper-rooted fan base, fewer dollars coming in the doors here means fewer dollars available for advertising (which Gilbert says the MAINEiacs are not doing enough of outside of L-A) and promotions.
If the team can’t rally enough fans here locally, how logical is it to think that we’ll be able to pull a substantial amount of fans from an hour away? Dollar for dollar, that would be money ill spent for a team lacking funds.
This is not to say, however, that there are not opportunities being missed by the MAINEiacs. President Bill Schurman has come in with a great amount of energy and has been integral in getting the players and staff out in the community (assisting in the Riverside Cemetery is the most prominent example).
Gilbert is correct in pointing out that the MAINEiacs rely on volunteers, and they do so heavily. Without their current group of volunteers, including Sean Bushway, Kellie Morris, Chris Brackett, the entire Gagne family, Nate Jalbert, Donna Martin, Ben Levasseur and many, many others, the fan experience on game night would be far diminished.
The second worst-kept secret here in Lewiston is that the team has, both in the past and perhaps even in the present, sought to move from Lewiston to greener pastures. Many, including myself, have found this off-putting, and Gilbert has certainly voiced his concerns. The reasons, though, are economically justifiable.
The main reason is clearly seen by how many fans show up on a given night. While the MAINEiacs are blessed with a core group of die-hard fans, the simple fact is this: not nearly enough casual fans are packing the Colisée each night. The onus, however, lies everywhere.
The MAINEiacs need to be out chasing fans more and being more creative about their marketing; the die-hards need to be more encouraging and to bring more of their friends and family; and Gilbert needs to stop using his position as a bully pulpit to rip a community asset (his own community, nonetheless) whenever he so chooses.
Whether Gilbert’s slights between himself and the team are real or perceived, nothing good comes from him making that public in such a brutish, cynical manner. It casts a negative shadow on everyone: the community, the team and the fans.
The right thing to do would be deal with this man to man and in private, not by creating a public spectacle. If we were lucky enough to have more optimistic, never-say-die fans like County Commissioner Elaine Makas and her mother (both of whom I can’t recall not seeing at a game), we’d be far better off.
Gilbert wonders aloud how an organization can operate with so many volunteers. But I wonder how an organization can afford to compete when they aren’t getting enough patronage and then the most public figure in the community unabashedly belittles them and announces publicly that he’s pulling his support.
What it comes down to is quite simple: for this relationship to work, everybody must play their part with full faith and credit. The loyal fans must try harder, now more than ever, to get every person they know to support the team. The MAINEiacs, if they are as sincere as they say they are about making this work, need to make one last substantial investment to make the business work.
They need more talented, hard-working employees who will do everything they can to bring in revenue and connect with the community, not merely token hirings or using a skeleton crew who simply cannot tend to everything that needs attention. As the adage goes: you need to spend money to make money. Whether that is an option or not remains to be seen, but it is necessary to build the internal infrastructure.
And finally, the mayor. As probably the most well-known figure in the area, Larry Gilbert needs to stop with the pithy whining about having hurt feelings over cooked hamburgers or not being congratulated on his reelection. If Gilbert is truly hoping the team succeeds, he has an odd way of advocating for it.
As MAINEiacs fans, we have our charge: come out, continue to support the team and be there for them next year. I’ve already signed up for season tickets next year, and I’d encourage you to do the same—especially if you consider yourself one of their top fans.