Pittsburghers are caught up with 'Bucs fever'
In the days leading up to the Pirates' road series last weekend in Toronto and Washington, closer Joel Hanrahan's Twitter account lit up with messages from fans.
"I had all kinds of people telling me on Twitter, 'We're driving up to Toronto,' and 'I'm coming to D.C. to see you play,' " Hanrahan said. "They're coming out to support us. People are proud to wear their black and yellow. We're seeing it everywhere. People are alive again for baseball."
For too many years, Pirates games were merely a way to pass the warm months between the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the start of Steelers training camp. But the team's surprising run toward the top of the National League Central standings has made the Pirates relevant again for Pittsburgh sports fans.
For the week of June 20, Pirates games on Root Sports were the No. 1-rated cable television broadcasts in the region. That stretch included four victories by the Pirates in six games against the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox.
Overall, TV ratings for Pirates games are up 33 percent from a year ago, according to Pirates chief marketing officer Lou DePaoli. The June 26 game against Boston was the fifth-highest-rated game since FSN Pittsburgh/Root began carrying the team in 1997.
Merchandise sales at PNC Park are up 23 percent compared to last season — a "dramatic increase," DePaoli said. A big seller this week has been a replica All-Star Game jersey with Hanrahan's name across the back.
"A lot of people are getting caught up in Bucs fever," DePaoli said. "We're definitely seeing an uptick in ticket sales."
DePaoli said ticket sales Tuesday were twice as large as every other day this year except when tickets were initially released at PirateFest in January. DePaoli declined to reveal exact numbers of sales.
Sales have been especially strong for the games this weekend against the Chicago Cubs and the first six home games after the All-Star break against the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Pirates already have sold out eight home games, two more than all of last season. DePaoli hopes to reach double digits this weekend.
"We sold thousands of tickets (Tuesday) for Friday's game," DePaoli said. "Friday is just short of selling out. Saturday is standing-room only."
Tickets also are moving briskly for the Aug. 19-21 series against the Reds, which includes one of the popular SkyBlast fireworks shows.
DePaoli's staff is trying to use the surge in single-ticket sales to increase full and partial season-ticket plans.
When a fan orders tickets, his or her name is immediately placed in a database. The next day, a sales rep makes a follow-up call.
"If they buy tickets to, say, four games, we try to get them to upgrade to a 10-game plan," DePaoli said.
And, yes, fans already have begun asking about playoff tickets.
"People have been asking for weeks," DePaoli said. "We tell them it's a little bit early ... but if they buy a full-season plan, they can guarantee their seat."