“The opportunity we have at Heinz Field is to right-size the stadium, to banner, to intentionally wrap (seats),” Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told her hometown newspaper on Monday. “It’s 68,000 seats right now, which is in the top quartile of the Power Five schools and there’s really only 10-20 schools in the country that really draw consistently over 80,000.”
Lykes’ plan to fix all the easily visible yellow seats at Heinz Field during Pitt games — tarp off excess seats — works in the interim; however, it’s not a good look or long-term fix if Pitt turns the program around.
In the grand scheme of things, tarping seats isn’t the be-all and end-all of the team’s game day football facility and experience.
Sure, let me be unbiased, there are some positives when it comes to tarping seats.
The aesthetic of the stadium looks better, which is a big issue when all of the eye-popping yellow seats are noticeably empty. In reality, though, we all know empty yellow seats sit under a Panthers’ tarp, but a TV screen makes it seem as if Pitt packed folks into Heinz Field — at least in the lower bowl.
And, instead of crowd noises being spread throughout the stadium, packing everyone together like sardines between said tarps creates a louder, better overall fan experience and atmosphere.
Also, Lyke and her staff won’t need to give tickets away just to fill up the stadium during a nationally televised game, just like they did this week against North Carolina — embarrassing.
Tarping seats comes off like a foolproof plan, but it isn’t without flaws.
If Pitt’s brass decides to tarp seats, some lifelong fans who have been coming to games since Heinz Field opened will be pushed out of their regular seats due to the tarping. Such a scenario lights a fire under these fans, inducing a public relations dumpster fire for Pitt.
It’s inevitable that this wouldn’t happen to numerous season ticket holders, many of whom have been loyal through the ups and downs.
Not to mention, whether seats are tarped or not, which may create a negative connotation and prevent fans from wanting to show up in the first place, drawing students to games still stands out as a crucial issue.
How can Pitt fix these dilemmas?
It’s simple: Pitt Stadium 2.0.
Pat Narduzzi even eluded to such a scenario, making a bevy of excuses for students not attending games.
“I think kids have things going on. I think those 60-inch TV screens get ya. I think a little bit of transportation gets ya,” Narduzzi said before Pitt’s match up against North Carolina earlier this week.
The keyword in this quote, I think, is transportation.
No college student, unless they’re a die-hard fan, wants to roll out of bed early Saturday morning just to hop on a shuttle or spend money on a tight college budget for an Uber.
In addition, maybe some don’t want to admit it, but college students are getting drunk before football games. Take a look at Barstool Sports if you don’t believe me; drinking and partying happens at every major university.
Pitt isn’t the exception. Taking the time to get over to the North Shore only puts a damper on tailgating plans, often times keeping a myriad of students away.
Pitt can get these students back.
Waking up and making a nervewracking, unnecessary trip to Heinz Field would be a thing of the past if Pitt Stadium 2.0 came to fruition. Students could roll out of bed at their dorms or South Oakland homes, get their pregame tailgate rocking and then come watch the team do battle right in their backyard.
Not to mention, those angry fans (mentioned earlier) who are being removed from their beloved season ticket holder’s seat won’t hold a long-lasting grudge when the team transitions back to an on-campus facility. It’s something traditional fans pushed for years.
Everybody wants a game day experience, and Oakland offers the perfect landscape and camaraderie for fans.
And let’s not forget about supply and demand playing a role here. Would the Steelers allow Pitt to tarp off seats? That’s left up to the imagination. Nevertheless, a perfectly sized 35,000 to 45,000 capacity stadium prevents tickets from being sold for $3 on the secondary market. Less seating, a higher demand… it’s an extremely simple concept.
The million dollar question: Where would Pitt Stadium 2.0 fit?
There just so happens to be a perfect setting for it right in between the new Petersen Sports Complex and Petersen Events Center.
Beyond the right field wall at Charles L. Cost Field, up the hill a bit, the OC lot offers spot-on measurements for a new stadium to begin construction.
Pitt itself even rendered a drawing years back of how Pitt Stadium 2.0 could fit, with the Cost Center providing box seating for fans. However, as we know, the university went in a different direction under then-leadership.
Nothing changed in the OC lot or Cost Center preventing Pitt from breaking ground. And the best part about it is that Pitt owns every inch of land in this territory.
Other than working with the city on a piece of funding, no negotiations based on obtaining land are necessary.
And contrary to popular belief, money wouldn’t be an issue. If leadership made an effort to push another on-campus stadium, donors would be head over heels offering up money.
And let’s not forget that, with proper marketing tactics, Pitt Stadium 2.0 would sell out every game in its inaugural season. The nostalgia of the old and new stadium coming together would fill it to capacity no matter what piece of mediocracy they toss out there.
The plan: Lyke and Narduzzi begin tossing around the idea of a new on-campus stadium, causing donors to come forward with large sums of money. Once enough money is raised, Lyke follows through with her plan and convinces the Steelers to tarp up parts of Heinz Field on Saturdays for one season.
After a farewell season at Heinz Field, Pitt moves into their new home.
Now is the optimal time for the school to make a move on this plan. It’s a young team right now who possesses loads of potential. Another year at Heinz Field lets these kids grow and gain valuable experience that’ll help them compete in the ACC. From there, in an ideal, flawless scenario, Pitt competes for a Coastal Division title and conference championship, all happening in their new home, Pitt Stadium 2.0 — or some other name if a company buys ownership rights.
Like the Pitt script making a return, another on-campus stadium generates a buzz like no other and rejuvenates a fan base desperately in need of a boost.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Football is the most profitable part of any athletic department in the country, and it’s time for Heather Lyke and her team to find a way to get Pitt Stadium 2.0 built. If not, it could lead to the decline of a once-storied football program.
Joe Cinello covers Pirates material for Pittsburgh Sports Castle. Connect with him on Facebook (Joey Cinello), Linkedin (Joseph Cinello) and Twitter (@JCinello).