Should Maine Move Future Games Against Merrimack and Stonehill to Portland?

Maine scheduled home games against two Massachusetts programs. Moving these games to Portland could benefit the program tremendously.

Maine recently scheduled future games with Merrimack and Stonehill.
Source: Anthony DelMonaco

While the season is less than two months away, the lack of on-field news still brings much attention to scheduling news. Last month, Maine announced future games with Colgate, Merrimack, and Stonehill.

For many, the series extension between Maine and Colgate was the most significant addition to the Black Bears' schedule. However, the Black Bears' pair of series with Merrimack and Stonehill presents an opportunity for the program. In 2025, Maine hosts Stonehill followed by a visit from Merrimack the next year.

For the past 60 years, Maine has occasionally played games at Portland's Fitzpatrick Stadium, playing 13 games at the stadium. (Huge thanks to The Playing Grounds of College Football: A Comprehensive Directory, 1869-2018 by Mark Pollak for this data).The coastal city is the most populous in the "Pine Tree State," with a population of over 68,000, roughly 57,000 more people than the University of Maine's location in Orono.

Although neutral site games are rare in the FCS outside the HBCUs, Maine has played a game at Fitzpatrick Stadium within the last ten years. In 2017, Maine hosted Delaware at the Portland Stadium. However, this game is one of only two played at Fitzpatrick Stadium since 2005.

Despite the rarity of these games in Portland, they have value. Maine has no major professional sports teams. The University of Maine is the flagship program in the state, and its football program is a preeminent part of the Maine sports scene.

The Black Bears televise their games on local over-the-air television on WVII (ABC) and WFVX (Fox), a tradition that dates back to 1953. A game in Portland would strengthen an already solid bond between the program and the state. Portland is long overdue to see the state's most prominent college football brand play.

Merrimack and Stonehill are two of the most ideal opponents for a game in Portland. Both schools are in Northeastern Massachusetts and are a manageable drive from Maine's largest city. Portland is a 1.5-hour drive from Merrimack's campus and a 2.5-hour drive from Stonehill, two hours closer to both programs than Maine's campus in Orono. Games in Portland against Merrimack and Stonehill are much easier trips for their fanbases than they are for Maine’s CAA counterparts.

Merrimack and Stonehill do not have the football pedigree of Maine's CAA counterparts, so a move to Portland would give this game more of a "big game" feel. Otherwise, the game could be a tough sell for casual Maine fans compared to games against long-time Yankee Conference/Atlantic 10 rivals.

Since neutral-site FCS games are a rarity, a bowl-like atmosphere in Maine's biggest city could make the game feel like an event for Warriors and Skyhawk fans. The bowl-like atmosphere benefits Merrimack the most as the program enters an indefinite era of uncertainty as an FCS Independent.

Finally, a Maine "home game" in Portland helps the state and city get the most of recent upgrades to 92-year-old Fitzpatrick Stadium. Fitzpatrick Stadium received $1.5 million in upgrades to establish a USL team that begins play in 2025. Games in back-to-back years in Portland create an unprecedented sports renaissance in the city.

The geography and context exist for Maine to move its games against either Merrimack or Stonehill to Portland, Maine. Strengthening statewide connections to the program, increased road fan attendance, and ticket revenue make this a worthwhile option for the Black Bears.