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Pirates can expect profits, not wins

| Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007

It's a "natural progression," new Chairman Bob Nutting said, referring to his taking over the top reins of the Pittsburgh Pirates from Kevin McClatchy, who will be CEO.

The change is no sharp break from the past. The Pirates will keep salaries low by baseball standards while trying to build from within.

As for winning games, however, one hardly sees how staying the course is a "natural progression" for breaking the team's 14-season losing streak.

But the sports world is no stranger to the unexpected.

We would expect, however, that Mr. Nutting and his father, longtime Pirates investors who own more than 50 percent of the franchise, will operate the Pirates for profit.

The family already benefits from a taxpayer-subsidized stadium and low expectations. Breaking even is the gold standard for the Pirates; doing better is platinum.

Attendance last season was 1.86 million; the National League posted a record average of 2.6 million. Still there is every indication the Pirates are putting enough people in seats to make money.

The Pirates had record attendance of more than 2.44 million in 2001, PNC Park's first year.

But attendance fell sharply to 1.58 million in 2004, with a two-year uptick in advance of the All-Star Game in 2006.

The bells and whistles of a spanking new field and the All-Star Game will not draw fans; that's over.

At some point, doing more to win will have to become synonymous with a good business strategy.

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