Riverhounds announce TV deal, unveil new logo and jerseys
Perhaps the only thing flowing higher than the water of the nearby Monongahela on Friday night was the optimism at Highmark Stadium.
The Riverhounds greeted a crowd primarily made up of season-ticket holders with a series of major announcements, the most eye-catching of which was the club's new logo, the first full redesign of the team's crest since they began play in 1999.
KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani served as emcee for the evening and as part of his duties announced a television deal between the Riverhounds and KDKA sister station WPCW to televise a minimum of 22 of the team's 34 USL games this season.
At the center of the proceedings was Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger, who unveiled the logo — a circular, black-and-gold crest featuring a paw print, soccer ball and visual reference to Pittsburgh's bridges and rivers — and delivered a message summing up the hopeful feeling around the team and new coach Bob Lilley.
“As long as I've been here, four, five years, this is a whole different feeling,” Shallenberger said. “This is the first time I honestly feel (good). I'm not going to sit here and say we're going to win a championship, but we're going to make a lot of noise. It's different this year. People actually believe we can win.”
If nothing else, the team's aesthetic moves got a positive response.
Both the logo and the team's new jerseys — the start of a five-year deal with Adidas — were cheered by the fans in attendance as returning players Joe Greenspan, Kevin Kerr and Romeo Parkes modeled a black-and-gold home jersey and two road/alternate uniforms, one black and one white.
Another key change for the upcoming season, Highmark Stadium's expansion to 5,000 seats, was touched upon during the presentation.
But during Lilley's time speaking with the fans, the longtime USL coach addressed how the league has grown from crowds of 250 in the early 2000s to 25,000 or more in some cities last season. Highmark growing to 5,000 — and then winning enough to make fans want to fill those seats — is a necessary part of the Riverhounds keeping up with the league.
“Rochester (Lilley's previous coaching stop) kind of lost that support from the corporate community and from the fan base, and it made it a struggle, but we were always able to be competitive,” Lilley said. “You look at the explosion of soccer in this country, the growth of MLS and USL, it's not uncommon for USL cities to have 10, 15 thousand at a game. We deserve to be there in this city.”
A big part of building their audience simply will be getting the product in front of more eyes, which the team's most expansive TV deal has a chance to accomplish.
WPCW will televise all 17 road games, beginning with the season opener March 24 in Nashville, and a minimum of five home games during the season. The package could be expanded for more regular-season games, U.S. Open Cup games or USL playoff games, should the Riverhounds make the postseason for the first time in three years.
In the end, Shallenberger admitted — as he often has in the past — moving the Riverhounds to the next level first requires winning on the field.
“Since I came here, all I wanted to do was put together a soccer team and an organization that you guys in this city would be proud of. I'm going to tell you right now, we're on that track,” Shallenberger said.