Pitt basketball attendance hit a modern-era rock-bottom in the 2017-18 season, with the Panthers drawing the fewest number of people per game since 1981-82 at 3,969 fans per game.
The Panthers also set Petersen Events Center records for the least-attended regular season home game with 2,333 fans in the house against Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 5 and also the building record for the least-attended ACC game when 2,420 saw Pitt play Wake Forest.
In general, fan dissatisfaction with head coach Kevin Stallings and the team’s historically poor 0-19 season in ACC play combined to keep fans away.
The first factor was corrected by athletic director Heather Lyke this offseason, as she fired Stallings and replaced him with Duke assistant Jeff Capel, a move that has been met with acclaim by much of the Pitt fanbase.
The team’s improvement will still likely take some time and there’s of course, no certainty that Capel will be able to get Pitt back to being a regular contender to make the NCAA Tournament.
There was another factor in Pitt’s moribund attendance in 2017-18, though. Even though the team was forecast by many to struggle throughout the season, the tickets prices for its games remained the same as years past.
That meant that even when West Virginia, Duke and the No. 1 team in the country in Virginia came to town, Pitt wasn’t able to drum up sellout crowds.
Monday, Pitt announced that the prices on tickets at Petersen Events Center will be lowered for the 2018-19 season.
“We are continuously looking for ways to provide a better fan experience at the Petersen Events Center,” assistant athletic director Ben Smith said in a press release. “Given the national trend of declining attendance, we felt it necessary to undergo a full evaluation of our pricing and policies. As a result of this process, we have developed a pricing structure that will enable more fans and families the opportunity to come out to support the team. Our goal is to once again make the Petersen Events Center one of the toughest venues for our visiting opponents to play in.”
Pitt will also reduce the membership costs related to ticket sales in order to reflect changes in the tax code that no longer make such payments tax deductible. Instead of an increasing membership cost based on the number of seats purchased, each seat will come with a flat-rate fee.
An average fan with season tickets in the 100 level will see a cost savings of approximately $100 per year. Fans with more than two seats together will see increased savings thanks to the reduction in membership fees.
In the upper level, the price decrease will be dramatic, with some season tickets now available without a mandatory donation. Previously, all season ticket packages were priced the same, regardless if they were in the lower-level corners or way in the rafters. The new bottom-line figure for season tickets in the upper level will be just $280 per year.
In addition to reducing the bottom-line figure for someone to become a season-ticket holder, the lower-priced seats will allow Pitt more flexibility when pricing single-game tickets. Instead of more-expensive tickets ending up on the secondary market, Pitt hopes having some lower-priced seats will allow them to be competitive for casual fans, as well as die-hards.
“We had to price single-game tickets across all areas,” Smith said. “This can provide our ticketing department more sales opportunities.”
Pitt is currently taking deposits on season tickets for the 2018-19 season, with full ticket packages going on sale by the end of the month.
It reasons that if Capel can get the Panthers back to a competitive spot, Pitt’s ticket sales should be able to rebound to where they were in the waning days of Jamie Dixon’s tenure. But even that represented a serious departure from Pitt’s highs in the early 2000s.
In order to fill the Petersen Events Center on a regular basis, it was evident even before the team’s recent downturn in outcomes that something was going to have to change with regards to ticket sales. Now that Pitt has cleared that Hurdle, the only thing stopping the Panthers from packing the Pete will be play on the court.