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Win or lose, Steelers game's worth $20 million to area

Kim Leonard
| Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

Mechanics in the North Side are working to get all 300 Yellow Cab Co. taxis on the road this weekend. Bakers in Oakmont are filling cases with Terrible Cakes.

And almost all 4,000 hotel rooms Downtown and nearby are booked at premium prices for Saturday and Sunday, compared to a typical January weekend night when just one-fourth of them might be filled.

Pittsburgh businesses, in the midst of a sour economy, are making the most of the days leading up to Sunday's 6:30 p.m. AFC Championship contest. The second straight postseason game at Heinz Field is expected to draw thousands of visitors to town and is building the home crowd's excitement for all things Steelers as the team sits a game away from the Super Bowl.

"When we went to the Super Bowl last time, we were the sixth seed and there were no home games. So the city actually is benefiting more this year than we did" in 2006, said Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking Group.

The 10,000 or so spaces Alco owns or manages near the stadium will rent for the typical postseason game rate of $40 each, compared to $30 for a regular game. Although every space is filled for every Steelers game, last Sunday and this weekend bring unplanned revenue.

"It's a shot in the arm for the whole North Shore," Stabile said.

VisitPittsburgh worked with the Steelers to estimate the championship game will pump $20.3 million into the local economy. That "conservative number" assumes 10 percent of the 65,000 ticket holders will be Baltimore Ravens fans or others from outside the region, said Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing at the tourism promotion organization.

Out-of-towners probably will pay for one night at a hotel. Everyone who attends the game will spend $110 to $360 per ticket, VisitPittsburgh figured, though prices are running much higher. And they'll eat at local restaurants, park or take buses and taxis and probably buy a souvenir.

The 616-room Westin Convention Center Hotel is sold out for Saturday and Sunday. Rooms cost $279 a night, double the typical cost.

"It's a pure issue of supply and demand," General Manager Tom Martini said.

The Original Fish Market restaurant in the Downtown hotel will open for lunch, not just dinner, on Saturday and Sunday. The game should boost the Westin's revenue by up to $200,000 overall, Martini said.

Yellow Cab operator Jolanda White makes $500 on a typical Friday-through-Sunday period, but earned $960 last weekend.

She drove locals and visitors around town, and to and from Pittsburgh International Airport. One passenger, a woman decked out in Steelers gear, spoke little English but screeched with excitement when the cab pulled out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and she spotted Heinz Field, White said.

This weekend should bring more fares from the airport, "not necessarily Baltimore fans but Steelers fans, because they come from all over," she said.

Jerry Campolongo of Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which owns Yellow Cab, said 15 to 20 vehicles at a time typically are out for repairs, but the company in the Manchester section of the North Side is pushing to get its entire fleet ready.

Bartender Jim McKee expects a busy Sunday at McFadden's restaurant, given the constant traffic the North Shore restaurant had for last weekend's San Diego game.

Typically, a crowd builds until game time at the pub that accommodates 800 people, then drops off as ticket holders head for Heinz Field. "Last Sunday, nobody left," because many patrons didn't have tickets, but just wanted to be near the stadium, he said.

VisitPittsburgh's numbers don't include what the Ravens or out-of-town news media will spend here, or what Pittsburgh-area fans who plan to watch on TV might buy.

Steelers merchandise sales are running third in the National Football League -- behind the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants -- with an 8.3 percent share of the projected $3 billion in revenue this season, analyst Matt Powell with SportsOneSource said. Still, the number is up slightly from early fall, probably due to the team's late-season success, he said.

Sales of Terrible Cakes, Ginger Ben cookies and other black-and-gold baked goods boosted Oakmont Bakery's sales by 17 percent last weekend, from a year ago.

Owner Marc Serrao projects a 50 percent increase this time, and if the team reaches the Super Bowl, sales will double as they did in 2006.

"We have 11 cake decorators, and they couldn't keep up with demand," Serrao said.

Additional Information:

Price check

What Steelers -- or Ravens -- fans might spend before or at Sunday's game:

• Room at Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown: $279

• Order of wings and domestic beer at McFadden's, North Shore: $12.99

• Yellow Cab ride from Downtown to Heinz Field: $6 to $8

• Parking space near Heinz Field: $40; or $5 in Pittsburgh Parking Authority garages Downtown

• Game ticket, originally $110 to $360, now higher

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