The Pitt Alumni Disconnect

The Pitt Alumni Disconnect

Here is a nice submission by Notrocketscience:

It has become quite apparent that there is a large amount of apathy by Pitt alumni toward the support of the football program and to a lesser degree the basketball program.  Not all alumni feel this way but too many do.  The alumni donation numbers are not good either in percent of alumni who donate or in monetary donation totals, ticket sales are not good and attendance is not good (with already purchased tickets).  

So I ask, why?

In my opinion, it isn’t only ONE thing.  It isn’t the bad traffic, limited  parking, Pat Narduzzi shutting out the media from practice or the color of the uniforms.  It is Pitt’s college experience as a whole.  It is the campus location, the campus atmosphere, the immediate Oakland area and the campus topography.  I believe the alumni disconnect is driven by the lack of true college atmosphere at the city location and the university’s failure to improve that atmosphere over many years.

A huge part of school pride is sports related.  For basketball at Pitt, it is an above average experience.  The Pete is a great facility and the Oakland Zoo is great.  I attended the WVU game this past weekend.  Kudos to the students.  Screw the season ticket holders, including the private box holders, for selling their tickets to WV fans.  I find that disgusting.  What those season ticket holders missed with their crap attitude was a fantastic game. But I digress…

How about the football experience?  About 27,000 students go to the main campus.  That is full time graduate and undergraduate students.  About 1/3 are from out of state.  Pitt has an allotment of 10,000 tickets for students.  I have no idea if they sell all of those.  I assume they don’t, that is why it isn’t 20,000.  We also all know the student section is not full for most games.  If 10K showed up, that would be about 37% of the student body, so it is really closer to 25% that show up.

Everyone likes to compare Pitt to PSU even though I think that is ridiculous.  They have about 46K students at the main campus and allot 21K student tickets (I think it is even higher).  So 47% of their student body attends games and their student section is 100% full.

The poor student turn out at Pitt is because of the location of the stadium.  You want school pride?  Then have students experience university sports on their own campus in what they consider their university’s stadium.  Not a rented stadium.  That is a fact.  More student tickets would be sold and the percent attending would sky rocket in an on campus stadium.  I guarantee, when those students graduated they would give back more.  Current alumni would attend more games and give more.  Pitt needs to focus on the core of its fan base.

Let’s get back to the campus experience.  Sad to say, I don’t think it is a great one for students.  Don’t take that the wrong way; I loved my time at Pitt.  Sure, we all remember nights at the bars and the “O”, but if you have been to other colleges there is something about having a campus students can hang out in and the general public can enjoy.

For the most part, the biggest changes in Oakland in at least the last 30 years, has been new hospitals, new low income housing and Pitt stadium going away.  Of course the university has made campus improvements, but there has been no effort to expand the campus and make it a destination for people other than a student going to class.

 Obviously, the city environment gives Pitt its uniqueness.  However, Oakland needs to feel like a campus, like a college section of Pittsburgh.  Instead Pitt feels like just another part of the city.  Pitt’s campus is listed as 132 acres.  CMU’s is listed as bigger.  Pitt doesn’t compare to PSU or any ACC school.  Pitt compares very very closely to Temple (115 acres strong).  Yes Temple.  I am not talking about being like a Big10 campus.  

Most of Pitt’s campus is on a hill side.  No one is driving into Oakland on a nice day and saying, “Let’s take a stroll up the hill”.  The campus needs to be expanded and Oakland cleaned up.  Pitt needs to work with the city to do this, create some more green space, close a small section of a few streets for pedestrian only use and create shopping areas on the Shadyside model.  No one wants to sit on the sidewalk of Forbes or Fifth and enjoy a beer or glass of wine in the summer while inhaling bus fumes.  

Where is the 15, 20, 25 year planning?  It sure is there for the hospitals.  Can some of that UPMC leadership work its way over to the University?

In summary, I don’t think the alumni disconnect has a short term fix.  You want me totally engaged and connected to my university?  Show me the plan that makes it possible for a student to do this.  The plan for an on-campus stadium; the plan to improve Oakland; the plan to bring my University strongly forward into the future.  

Show me that there is a real and genuine commitment to a full campus experience for the students.  Show me life for future students will be better than what I experienced.

Do this and reach out to students and alumni during the planning and doing stages and you will find that alumni donations will rise along with a real sense of ownership.