Pitt AD Heather Lyke hopes tailgaters someday can set up tents outside Heinz Field
Heather Lyke has a vision, and in her mind, it’s more than a dream.
One of these days, Pitt’s athletic director hopes to be driving to her team’s football game, and as she turns toward Heinz Field, she can’t see the parking lots.
But that’s a good thing because all she can see are tents emblazoned with the Pitt logo and happy tailgaters underneath them.
Part of attending football games is the pregame tailgate parties that she believes needs to be more than chicken wings and potato salad.
“You should drive up and get off the expressway and all you see down in the parking lot is Pitt-branded tents,” she said. “You don’t see it right now.
“We obviously have Tailgate Guys on the lawn (with tents), and that’s beautiful. Those are prime spots, but there’s only so many of them.
“What I see when I go to college football games, and having done this for a lot of times and a lot of games, people want to tailgate outside of their car and they want to put up tents and they want to have that destination place. Right now, we can’t put tents up down there (in most areas). We have to work on that issue.”
Lyke believes tents could save the tailgating experience in wet weather and, in turn, encourage people to buy tickets.
Lyke did move the student tailgaters closer to the stadium in hopes of enhancing the atmosphere, but she also knows the only way to improve attendance at Pitt home games is to win more games. Pitt hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2016.
Pitt started 2-3 last season before rallying to win the ACC Coastal Division, but Lyke envisions a better start to this season with four of the first five games at Heinz Field.
“It’s teed up really nicely for our program to make a run early,” she said, “and get some momentum and people to come out.”
One of those games – the second against Ohio University — will start at 11 a.m. on the ACC Network.
“They’re trying to get four games in one day,” she said. “We agreed to go with an 11 o’clock kick. There’s a Pirates game that day so we couldn’t play much later, anyway. To be a good partner to the network, I thought it made sense right out of the gate.”
Lyke said she consulted with coach Pat Narduzzi before agreeing to the unorthodox start time.
“He’s an early riser so he doesn’t mind playing at 11.”
On other matters:
• Lyke said there hasn’t been much talk about the ACC going from eight to nine ACC games.
“If it happens, we’re still going to have some marquee matchups,” he said. “I’m not worried about that.”
Pitt’s future non-conference opponents include Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee and Cincinnati.
• She said football season tickets may not be as strong as last year when Penn State played at Heinz Field. “But it’s very comparable to the previous year,” she said. “Our renewal rate percentage is holding steady.”
The trick will be to attract fans without a marquee matchup. “It’s been so much focused on a marquee matchup and that’s the game that we all go to,” she said. “And then the rest of the season is just kind of your loyal die-hards. How do we make it more consistent?”
• After hiring eight coaches in her first 17 months on the job, she said those programs are progressing.
“They’re just recruiting a different caliber of athlete,” she said. “They’re selling belief and vision: `Come and be a part of building something.’ ”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .