The longest stretch of losing in the history of North American professional sports coupled with a slumping economy has forced the Pittsburgh Pirates to get creative as they try to fill PNC Park.
The Pirates, which rank 15th in the National League with an average home attendance of 20,037, just added another week to a promotion in which the team pays the service fees for any tickets purchased online or over the phone to any remaining game on the home schedule. The promotion was scheduled to run from Sunday, August 1 through Sunday, August 8 but will now last through Sunday, August 15. The same thing happened a year ago, when the Pirates unveiled the one-week deal July 31 and extended it through August 14.
“It’s definitely something that our fans have taken advantage of and are definitely interested in taking advantage of,” Pirates manager of business communications Matt Nordby told TicketNews.
Nordby estimates each ticket carries between $2 and $4 in extra fees, meaning a family of four is likely to save more than $10 per purchase during the promotion.
The promotion was timed to coincide with the start of a seven-game homestand, and while the Pirates have yet to see any impact at the gate—the average attendance during the first four games was 16,587—the success of a similar deal last year has Nordby confident a boost is coming.
In 2009, the Pirates averaged almost a thousand more fans per home game in the 36 games they played at PNC Park after the ticket fees promotion began (19,986) than in the 45 games played beforehand (19,074). “I can’t say for sure how much it helped, but it definitely got a great reaction from our fans,” Nordby said.
Attendance was further aided last summer by a second promotion titled “You Score As The Bucs Score” in which 2,500 outfield seats to a four-game series against the Washington Nationals from July 31 through August 3 were reduced from $24 to $14 after the Pirates scored 10 runs in a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks July 24-26. The promotion was offered again later in the summer and resulted in the same outfield seats being reduced to $14 for a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals from September 4-6 after the Pirates scored 10 runs in a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies from August 25-27.
The “You Score As The Bucs Score” promotion ran this year from May 14-16, when the Pirates scored 17 runs against the Chicago Cubs and thereby reduced the prices of those 2,500 outfield seats to $7 for a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves from May 21-23. The Pirates expanded the offer to include a limited number of outfield box seats after most of the $7 seats were purchased less than an hour after they went on sale. The Pirates averaged 24,012 fans per game during the three-game series against the Braves, an average increase of nearly 4,000.
“Especially with the way the economy is, it’s especially important we provide value for our fans and we thought these were two unique ways we were able to provide that,” Nordby said.
Nordby said the Pirates’ struggles on the field had little to do with the ticket promotions. The Pirates were 38-70 through Thursday, August 5, leaving them just 12 losses shy of their 18th straight sub-.500 season—two years longer than the previous mark of futility set by the Phillies from 1933-48.
“It’s more something that we want to do to give value to our fans,” Nordby said. “PNC Park is a great place to come to, it’s a fan-friendly, family-friendly atmosphere. Offering those things to our fans is definitely at the top of our list.”