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Pitt, Penn State face competition for ticket sales

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 8:09 p.m.

Before his sales team made one call this year in an attempt to sell Pitt football tickets, Chris Ferris looked around the city.

There were concerts at PNC Park, 333 consecutive sellouts at Penguins games, and a waiting list of people hoping to buy Steelers season tickets.

Pitt faces formidable challenges in selling tickets at Heinz Field, but Penn State also must hustle to take advantage of Beaver Stadium, the nation's second-largest college stadium (capacity 106,572).

“I don't view it as tough,” said Ferris, the executive associate athletic director for external affairs at Pitt. “One of the things we have to be very cognizant of is we have such a fabulous sports climate. We have fans who are engaged in the entire sports community. When people look at their schedules, they have a lot going on.”

One response this year — when Pitt does not play Notre Dame and opens Aug. 30 against Delaware, instead of eventual national champion Florida State — was to allow fans to buy single-game tickets seven months earlier than usual. Typically, Pitt waited until August to launch its single-game sale; this year, it started in January.

Plus, fans can purchase three-game plans in which they pick the dates. Prices vary, depending on the opponent.

Ferris said season-ticket sales have reached 36,000, but he said it could reach 39,000 by kickoff for Delaware. He added his team of salespeople average 1,500 calls per week.

Add 11,000 student tickets ($25 for the entire seven-game home schedule), 4,000 single-game tickets already sold for Delaware and a walk-up crowd stirred by the Ribfest, and Pitt could attract about 50,000 people for its opener.

That would be slightly better than attendance figures for the past six seasons. From 2008 — when Pitt won nine games for the first time in six years — through last year's inaugural ACC season, Pitt averaged 48,700 fans at Heinz Field.

Pitt attendance ranked seventh in the 14-team ACC in 2013, but Ferris said he expects that standing to improve this year.

Penn State faces a different challenge.

After 11 consecutive seasons of averaging more than 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium — including a record 110,753 for a nonconference Nebraska game in 2002 — attendance fell to 96,729 in 2012, the first full season without Joe Paterno and the first under NCAA sanctions. It fell even further last year to 96,582, the lowest since the $93 million stadium expansion in 2001. Nationally, attendance declined last year at eight schools among the 10 that attracted the most fans, including Penn State.

Enter new coach James Franklin, who vowed to fill Beaver Stadium. In fact, he likes to use the hashtag #107Kstrong in his Tweets. A Penn State official said they have sold 5,000 new season tickets but did not elaborate on how sales compare to last season's numbers at this time, 2 12 weeks prior to the home opener.

When he was hired in January, Franklin said: “That stadium will be sold out every single game from here on out.”

Staff writer Chris Adamski contributed. Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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