Note – this piece was sent to me in the middle of the 2017 season and got lost in the shuffle but it is as timely now as it was when Lee sent it to me…
By Albert Lee Pickens III
As an avid Pitt fan, season ticket holder, former college football player, I have to ask one question; Oakland Who? So where are the so called self proclaimed “Oakland Zoo” or the “Panther Pitt?” What ever they want to call themselves? I’ll tell you where they aren’t… at the games! Maybe I expect too much.
My father took me to games and he instilled in me to stay till the end of every game, even in 10° weather no matter score. Fast forward 30 years and I’m still there for every home game. Sure it’s a bit of a hassle for Pitt students to ride a school bus a few blocks over to the game because there’s no stadium on campus.
During research for this article I went back to the 1980’s to look at the overall attendance every home game every season. Sure the big games like PSU, ND, and WVU had above average to sell out crowds. The other games didn’t have as many attending for the obvious reasons. But to blame attendance on the need of an on campus stadium does not support that arguments since the rest the numbers match up reasonably well.
The only number that doesn’t match up is the student section. Yes, I’m calling them out. If the Pitt students don’t show up on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when they have nothing to do, will they show up as adults? Will they bring their children to Homecoming 10 or 15 years later? I think the answer is no.
Over the last 40 years things have change for our city. People moved away when the mills shut down, jobs were hard to find, but Pittsburgh bounced back with new tech jobs and booming medical career paths. So knowing this there has to be more Pitt Alumni in the area than ever.
There are 18,000 plus undergraduate students on campus. In 2012 the Pitt student allotment went up to 10,000. On Saturday when Pitt played the Rice Owls I bet there were no more than 5,000 students. The students do have to pay around 30$ for six home games. What’s that the cost of two cases of Iron City? I understand the administration wants to be this institution of academia, but Pittsburgh is a “sports town.” Hold on – check that… while going through the numbers when Pitt had winning teams people showed up in force so for Pitt Pittsburgh is a bandwagon town.
Yes, the students at Pitt now come from everywhere. After reading a Wall Street Journal story, I saw a piece stating that a survey conducted by colleges across the country have discovered that less kids are going to football games over all.
That study found that student attendance has dropped 7.1% since 2009. That number is important because it is from those students who do attend games where schools get future season ticket holders. Who then in turn donate money to the program. It’s something the schools need to figure out!
Now the real big money donors seem to come from and donate to the academic side of our university. This doesn’t mean you can’t have both. To me this is the biggest issue of all… is this just this generational issue – not actually attending the games in person? I’m sure it is probably way easier to sit in your dorm with your iPhone, playing video games while half watching the game on your iPad!?
Are students really that dissatisfied with the stadium parking situation? Or can the students get help to get focused on the game experience… like a full game day atmosphere (tailgating) and hanging out with their friends. Which can all still be done at campus before the ride over. The game itself should be the tail end of the game day’s fun.
I put a challenge out there for the Homecoming game this year regardless of record, opponent or weather. I want to see if the students can start to change the culture. It begins this year. So I ask again – Oakland Who?
If Pitt ever wants to be a national power again it’s going to take butts in the seats. To get the 4 and 5 star athletes they have to come to games and see 10,000 students and another 35,000 fans and Alumni.
The real story isn’t just about the coaches, X’s and O’s or players right now. It’s building a culture of students who love this historic program. Who show up like the Postal Service does in wind, rain and losing seasons. You know the saying “If you build it they will come?” Well students showing up now will help build it in the future. (And no, I’m not talking about a stadium.)
I hope to see more than the basic Student allotment at the home games. It is that vitally important… To the Panther Pitt & Oakland Zoo – I’ll see you on Saturdays this fall.
Hail to Pitt!
Editor’s Note: Lee Pickens is a huge and vocal Pitt fan. We now know that our AD, Heather Lyke, has made some changes to the logistics of where the students will sit at both the FB and BB games. There is no doubt that she heard that suggestion from the fans themselves and Lee might have just been the guy screaming loudest…