The Problem with Pitt

Well there isn’t any hockey for another five days (unless you count the All Star Game) so I’m going to turn to my other favorite topic, Pitt athletics. I read a couple days ago, in an article by Ron Cook (my favorite local sports writer, hahahaha just kidding) that not a lot of people turned out to watch the Pitt Men’s Basketball team finally end their losing streak, after 8 games, against Providence. His article didn’t really seem to say much except that he was disappointed that there weren’t more people at the game, but my question is, why does that really surprise anyone?

There’s no doubt that I am not a fan of Steve Pederson, but it’s becoming a situation of trying to put out a fire with gasoline. I truly believe that the man is trying to follow Winston Churchill’s advice on conserving energy, “Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down.” Except that he takes it quite literally and spends most of his day sleeping in his office.

Pound for pound many people would agree that the Peterson Events Center is at least as nice as the venues used by the city’s professional sports teams. Well being realistic its way nicer than Heinz Field, and its not a knock if its not nicer than “America’s Best Ballpark” PNC Park, or Consol Energy Center, which is laid out almost identically, and has the benefit of being 8 years newer. So clearly the lack of turnout has nothing to do with the venue being unacceptable. Let’s explore some other possibilities…Corporate sponsorship? Maybe too many of the seats belong to corporate sponsors, and these people, who have no history with the team, are uninterested in coming out to watch losses. Well I don’t know about that, there are only 10 corporate boxes in the arena, and corporate seats for college athletics can have bad consequences. Imagine if you were  a business and you wanted a new customer, so to try to woo them you invite them to a Pitt basketball game. What if the person you invite happens to be a WVU alum or fan? Yeah, bad.

Well maybe they need to convince small local businesses to invest in season tickets? Maybe they do. Funny story about that, my Dad is a business owner, he is a franchisee for Napa Auto Parts, and he is co-chair for the local Napa ad-council. In the past year the ad-council has been approached by both the Pirates and the Penguins for corporate sponsorship in exchange for tickets. Now I can’t say a whole lot about the Pirates, given that I rarely watch or listen to them, and haven’t been to a game in five years, but the Penguins are another story. If you have ever watched or listened to a Pens broadcast, it takes just as long to announce all of the sponsors coming out of a commercial break as it does to take the commercial break. If you have been to Consol Energy Center you know that literally everything is sponsored, I’m sure when they unveil Mario’s statue on March 7th, there will be a corporate sponsor for the event. Many people have complained that it takes away from the fans, and in some sense they’re right, but I don’t really care and neither should anyone. It is expensive to run a professional sports team nowadays, the more corporations spend on the organization, the less we as fans have to pay for tickets (which still are going up in price, imagine if there were no sponsors at all…). Many corporations work out multi-year deals for sponsorship which is also good for the franchise, it brings stability to the bottom line and ensures the future of the franchise.

But I have been digressing. When asked if the ad-council had ever been approached by Pitt basketball, my Dad’s answer is, “No.” Would this solve the problem of poor attendance? Maybe, but for now the University wants to maintain the eligibility of tickets for students and alumni, so let’s look there.

As I have said, I am a Pitt student, additionally my sister is also a Pitt student, and my father is a Pitt alumnus. In other words, 75% of my perfect nuclear family is part of the “Pitt Tradition.” How many times have we ever received a mailer or a phone call encouraging us to invest in season tickets, or even actively encouraged us to buy tickets for one game? Well, the answer to that is, “Zero.” Never. This holds true in all areas of Pitt patronage, the University basically does absolutely nothing to encourage its alumni to come back to the campus. I mean I understand that the technology the school uses probably cannot identify that two of its current students have the same permanent address as one of its alums, but why can’t the athletics department assign real people to look for these commonalities, and then make an offer like “Come make new memories with your kids” or something corny and cheesy like that. Lord knows that thousands of people would do it, regardless of the team’s record, and empty seats would never be an issue again. And if they don’t have empty seats then the recruiting budget can go up, and if that happens, then the team won’t go through an 8 game losing streak, will it?

Of course the issue remains, will the ever do it? Well, as long as Steve Pederson is in charge of the athletics department, probably not. C’est la vie.

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