Robinson: Extra seats too much of a good thing?
Jim Kelly led Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls during the early 1990s, a stretch in which Pittsburgh never won a playoff game, yet the Steelers never wanted to be the Bills.
They wanted to be the team that went to Super Bowls and won them, not lost them repeatedly. They wanted to be a team that players saw as a coveted destination rather than a dead end. They wanted to be as model franchise, rather than one that always seemed to operate from an outmoded plan.
Most of all, the Steelers didn't want to be a franchise that constantly worried one bad season might shrivel its fan base and cause its tickets to go from unavailable to unwanted.
So, when Heinz Field was in the planning stages in the late 1990s, Dan Rooney made certain it wasn't overly large for the market. Despite a lengthy waiting list for season tickets, the capacity was set at 65,000 (now 65,050), or only about 5,000 more than Three Rivers Stadium held.
Specifically, Rooney said the Steelers wanted to avoid being in a too-large stadium such as Buffalo's 80,024-seat Rich Stadium (now Ralph Wilson Stadium).
Even after Buffalo's stadium was skinnied down to its current capacity of 73,079 by the installation of larger seats and more luxury seating, the Bills are having trouble filling it. They played to an average home crowd of 64,950 last season, and they have averaged 62,694 (in 2011) since playing to 99.9 percent capacity in 2003.
So with the Steelers possibly staring at their first extended on-field slump since the 1990s, are they misjudging their fans' loyalty by pushing for a 3,000-seat expansion they hope will be completed by as early as 2014?
This season, their attendance — not the tickets sold — has dropped to an average of 61,818 (95.1 percent of capacity), which is down nearly 1,600 per game from 63,485 in 2009. There will be five more home games — none of them eagerly anticipated — before the season ends Dec. 29.
The proposed $30 million expansion project would raise Heinz Field's capacity to roughly 68,050, or about the same as Lincoln Financial Field (68,532) in much-larger Philadelphia.
Despite winning the Super Bowl in 2008, the Steelers ranked only 28th in attendance. And even with the additional seats, Heinz Field would be only the 20th-largest NFL stadium; currently, it's 26th.
Despite the Steelers' 10-14 record over the past two seasons, their tickets remain in strong demand, and they've sold out every home game since 1972. They still have tens of thousands of fans on their season-ticket waiting list, one that stretches back nearly 18 years.
If you signed up for season tickets in August 1995, you should be expecting a call from the Steelers in the relatively near future. Everyone else? You're still on standby.
For now, the Steelers shouldn't be worried if their fans fail to show up by the thousands for the Bills. The time for concern will arrive when those fans stop caring — and stop buying tickets.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers defense takes aim at Ravens QB Flacco
- Steelers notebook: Ravens enter short-handed at tight end
- Veteran LB Harrison: Steelers must play to way defense is set up
- Steelers notebook: Fully healthy, rookie WR Bryant progressing fast
- ‘Big play’ moniker fits veteran Steelers cornerback Gay
- Steelers’ prime-time games shrink attendance at Heinz Field
- Steelers offense puts up gaudy numbers in season’s 1st half
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger, offense must adjust with CB Smith out
- Rossi: Roethlisberger’s 100th was legendary, maybe more
- Steelers notebook: No reminders needed that Ravens are next foe
- Steelers wide receiver Brown getting accolades as one of NFL’s best