John Steigerwald: Attendance finally sinking to level Pirates deserve |
John Steigerwald, Columnist

John Steigerwald: Attendance finally sinking to level Pirates deserve

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Starling Marte celebrates his walk-off home run as he rounds the bases during the 13th inning against the A’s on Sunday. But only 18,517 fans were on hand to witness it.

This is going to be a bad year for the Pirates.

Not exactly a bold prediction, I know, but I’m not just talking about on the field, where they’ve shown every indication, especially with the injuries, of being a team that will struggle to finish at .500.

Their attendance is going to be embarrassing.

Have you seen some of those “crowds” at PNC Park?

Forget the attendance figures in the box score. Those are based on tickets sold, not people in the seats.

For a four game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, the official numbers averaged about 9,000 and never reached 10,000. There were times when there didn’t appear to be more than 2,000 people in the ballpark. The weather has been bad, but the numbers that show up in the box score — even though they don’t reflect the actual number of people who are there — are an indication of just how bad the offseason ticket sales were.

Only 9,000 tickets sold for a weeknight game in April tells you that, even if the Pirates had started the season playing .700 ball, the crowds would have been pathetic. Same thing with only 16,428 tickets being sold for a Friday night in May. There are already more tickets sold for the games played after school is out, but, based on what we’ve seen, even if the Pirates shock everybody and surge into first place, they probably never will generate enough walk-up sales to avoid an embarrassing number of empty seats.

On Sunday’s telecast, you could hear the home plate umpire loud and clear when he called a strike. It was deadly quiet. Depressing.

And you know what? The Pirates finally are getting the crowds they deserve for all the losing they’ve done since their last division championship 27 years ago.

They didn’t deserve the 30,846 fans they averaged in 2015 when they won 98 games. Not after they went 20 years without a winning season.

After, say, 15 consecutive losing seasons, there should be nobody in the park for your games other than the players’ immediate families.

Of course, this season the Pirates will embarrass themselves by celebrating the 40th anniversary of their last championship. And next year they’ll be able to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski and the 1960 champs.

Get your tickets now for the celebration of the 120-year anniversary of the 1909 champs coming up in 2029. Maybe the Pirates can get the great-great grandchildren of Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb to show up.

The Pirates still are benefiting from those three division-winning teams in the early 1990s because there are a lot of 30- and 40-something fathers and mothers who still are buying tickets because of what they remember as kids. They’re still bringing their kids to the games.

But four winning seasons in 27 years, no real hope for another division title in the foreseeable future and more empty seats than people at the ballpark are not going to create many new fans who will want to bring their kids to the 1979 team’s 50th anniversary party.

Meanwhile, exciting plans are in the works to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1990, ‘91 and ‘92 teams the next three years.

That should pack ‘em in. But the Pirates do have this going for them: The Baltimore Orioles are worse. They averaged 44,000 fans per game from 1992-2000. They drew 6,000 and change for a game last week after finishing 26th in attendance last season. The Pirates finished 27th and have a decent chance of passing them this year.

John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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