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Pitt seeks big crowds at Heinz Field in 2016

| Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, 2:40 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi looks on from the sideline during a game against Virginia on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, at Heinz Field.

Signed into the next decade, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is the recent recipient of a larger salary and more security.

His recruiting class of 2016 is considered Pitt's best in eight years.

Penn State is coming to town, rekindling a bitter rivalry for the first time since 2000.

Players will wear new uniforms this season and the Pitt script logo fans demand soon will be emblazoned everywhere but the sky over Heinz Field.

Now, it's time to fill those seats.

Athletic director Scott Barnes set the bar high for everyone — coaches, players, the ticket office and fans — when he revealed Monday an ambitious plan to sell a record number of Pitt full-season packages at Heinz Field: 53,775, an increase of more than 19.5 percent from last year. Two years ago, Pitt sold 40,696.

“It's a lofty goal,” he said, noting the Pitt record of 53,433 was set in 2003.

Season ticket sales opened to the general public Monday morning. But Barnes said 15,000 packages already had been sold earlier this year after Pitt's sales representatives began exclusively contacting past customers and what he said is the second-largest alumni base in the ACC.

At this time last year — two months before Barnes was hired — Pitt had sold only 4,500. Sales last week alone hit 4,500 when Narduzzi introduced his class of recently signed recruits.

“You ask the question, 'What's the difference?' ” Barnes said. “Well, obviously, the momentum coach Narduzzi and his staff and student-athletes have created.”

The work is only beginning. Barnes said Pitt needs to sell 9,770 new packages — so far 3,000 have been sold — and renew the season ticket base at 93 percent to hit the goal. Renewals last year reached 90 percent.

Single-game tickets will go on sale at an unspecified date, but Barnes said he is currently focused on packages.

“With that lofty goal, we have to spend the bulk of our time there,” he said.

Barnes hopes to capitalize on momentum created last season when Pitt won eight games — its most since 2010 — and fans eagerly bought tickets to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.

Also, Barnes and his recently created Panthers Fans Experience Committee sent out 38,000 surveys to ticket buyers and alumni within 100 miles of campus. Barnes said 7 12 percent were returned, with a total of 1,700 suggestions.

“We are going to dive into that and really see what our fan base is thinking,” he said.

Asked his vision of Pitt football five and 10 years into the future, Barnes said, “I see great things.”

“This program has obviously created stability. We have to continue to work hard on making sure all the pieces of that program are in place for a long time in terms of continuity.

“When you think about the recruiting base, when you think about divisional play in the ACC, when you think about our fan base and history, the crystal ball tells me we can achieve everything we want to achieve over time.”

Notes: Barnes said he is no closer to extending the four-game series with Penn State beyond 2019 than he was last year. ... With all ticket packages before Monday sold to past customers and graduates, Barnes said he expects “the lion's share” of people at the Penn State game Sept. 10 to be Pitt fans. ... Pitt will unveil its new uniforms and the script brand at an event scheduled for mid-May.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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