With success, Pirates' popularity grows

Bob Cohn
| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

As the Pirates have surged in the standings, their popularity locally and beyond Western Pennsylvania also has soared.

For the first time, the club recently played before five straight sellouts at PNC Park. Entering Wednesday night's game, the Pirates drew seven straight crowds of at least 30,000, most of them more than 35,000. Pirates president Frank Coonelly said each of three games before Wednesday surpassed individual ticket sales.

In addition, local TV ratings on Root Sports are up 19 percent over last season, said senior vice president and general manager Shawn McClintock. He added that Tuesday's game against the Phillies attracted about 355,000 viewers, making it the highest-rated telecast since records first were kept in 1994. He also said the Pirates rank fifth in Major League Baseball in local ratings.

Trying to end a record of 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates occupy first place in the National League Central with the best record in MLB. They are giving real hope to a fan base starved for success.

“The fact that our fans are excited to be part of the organization is a tremendous thing,” said Coonelly, who added that he is seeing an increasing number of young fans coming to the park. “We're developing fans that will be Pirates supporters for life.”

The club apparently also is becoming a hit nationwide. While it might be premature to affix the label America's Team, the Pirates were No. 2 in MLB in apparel sales for the week ending Tuesday, according to Fanatics.com, an online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise. The company reported a 50 percent increase in sales from the previous week, the largest among the 30 big league teams, with especially strong sales in New York and California.

“Pittsburgh is a great sports town, with very passionate fans, and we consistently see strong sales for all the teams in that market,” said Meier Raivich, Fanatics vice president of communications and corporate branding. “However, having the Pirates in first place overall at the midway point of the season, combined with the team's rich history, has spurred sales not only in Pittsburgh but with Pirates fans across the country.”

Over the past two weeks, the Pirates ranked eighth in apparel sales. Fanatics.com noted that the club typically ranks in the middle of the pack. Majestic Athletic, which produces MLB's authentic jerseys, reports a 25 percent increase in sales, according to Forbes.

The Pirates also are gaining more national media exposure, such as ESPN's broadcast of Wednesday's game against Oakland. But Coonelly said he is lobbying for the marquee attraction, ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball.”

“It's about time for the Sunday night crew to finally come to Pittsburgh,” he said.

Bob Cohn is a reporter for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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