Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes expects it to be a home crowd when Pitt hosts Penn State at Heinz Field on Sept. 10.
The two schools are separated by just 150 miles, but haven’t played since 2000, when Pitt won, 12-0 at Three Rivers Stadium.
Sixteen years of build up means that the demand for tickets has been sky-high, and Barnes announced on Thursday that the team had sold out of tickets. Heinz Field seats 70,000 for Pitt games.
The Panthers have sold a school-record 55,630 season tickets for 2016, a number that’s clearly been influenced by Penn State’s presence on the schedule. But has that increase come from Pitt fans excited by the return of the school’s most-hated rival — not to mention an eight-win 2015 season from Pat Narduzzi and company — or will it be Penn State flooding the gates come the second Saturday in September?
“The majority will be Pitt,” Barnes said definitively in a session with reporters Thursday. “It will be an incredible home-game atmosphere.”
The reason Barnes is fairly certain that his team’s home field won’t become a blue-and-white party is the way the tickets were doled out. Returning season ticket holders grabbed all 2,000 available single-game tickets.
“The way that we’ve staggered our sales and provided our season-ticket holders the opportunity to renew and the purchase and the release of single-game tickets — we couldn’t meet a fraction of our own season-ticket holders’ demand for those, I don’t know what that percentage [of Penn State fans] will be, but it won’t be very high.”
Pitt did sell 12,247 new season tickets and 2,200 new mini-plans in 2016, and Penn State fans certainly could have purchased some of those. Pitt season tickets can be had for as little as $147. Single-game tickets on the secondary market have routinely sold for more than $200.
Sources tell Pittsburgh Sports Now that Penn State fans that called the Pitt ticket office looking for single-game tickets were pushed toward season-ticket packages. Still, Barnes says he has “no concerns” about the number of potential Penn State fans.
“This is our house,” he said. “We don’t mind a donation or two from the Nittany Lions but our fans stepped up mightily very early in the process. We’re really proud of how they’ve stepped up.”
On the whole, Barnes is excited about the prospect of having Penn State at Heinz Field both this year and in 2018, and would like to see the series continue, despite the Big Ten going to a nine-game schedule and the ACC considering it.
“We do want — and it’s very important to us — whether we’re at nine or eight, to continue to have a rivalry game. For us, that’s always going to be in the mix as much as we can. We’ll continue to do that and pound on that and work on that.”
Barnes was excited about the positive response regarding the football team’s rollout of its royal blue and yellow throwbacks.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with that,” he said. “You saw the reaction of the student-athletes. What I’m learning here in just over a year is that our fans and this city love to honor and celebrate the history of this place. So, the retro, the Pitt script, those things have been very well embraced.
“It was a pleasant surprise to see how much enthusiasm we got, even across the national landscape. I think it’s more of the same in terms of when we unveiled the Pitt script, the new uniforms and now this.”
He said he didn’t envision a scenario in which the retro colors would become the team’s primary offering, referencing his staff’s commitment to the new uniform set just released this spring. He did say that something similar for the basketball team, while not currently in the works, is an option moving forward.
“We’re always open to finding fun things that excite our student athletes and our fans,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that.”
Barnes also teased the ongoing improvements to the Petersen Events Center, saying that Pitt season ticket holders will be “excited to see the transformation.”