Pirates winning in ticket sales, too

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It's frustrating being a Pirates fan.

First, there's that record-setting string of 19 losing seasons.

Now, with a team that is finally winning, it's tougher to get tickets.

But this seems to be a good kind of frustration.

None of the fans at the PNC Park ticket windows Thursday expressed anger at learning that seats for games tonight and Saturday night were virtually gone and that the choices left for Sunday were limited.

"Hey, people need to know that you can't wait until the day before the game to get your tickets anymore," said Robert Brandfass, 51, of Mount Washington, as he walked away empty-handed.

Mr. Brandfass, who is general counsel for West Penn Allegheny Health System, had stopped by to get two seats to Saturday night's game against the Miami Marlins.

"My daughter's in town and she wanted to go. But it's standing-room only," he said. "I'd stand for nine innings, but I don't think my daughter will."

Butch Thieret, 48, an engineer from McCandless, was likewise disappointed. But he also took it in stride.

"It's definitely been a good season for the fans. The team has regenerated interest in baseball," he said. "I haven't seen my last game. I'll look at the schedule and take another shot."

As the players on the field get closer to their goal of reaching the playoffs, the team's front office gets closer to its goal of setting a franchise record for attendance. The magic number is 2,436,140, one more than the total that turned out in 2001, the year PNC Park opened.

"Things are going very well. We project out we'll finish ahead of last year, that's for sure," said Lou DePaoli, the Pirates' chief marketing officer.

"In the 42 home games played through the All-Star break, attendance has been up 12.25 percent over last year. And last year finished up 22 percent over 2010. So you're seeing some pretty significant attendance growth at PNC Park a couple of years in a row."

So far this season, the Pirates have drawn 1,069,946 fans, an average of 25,475 per game in the park with a capacity of 38,496. It's a pace that would end up with about 2,038,000 tickets sold. (Because of a rainout in April -- that was made up in a doubleheader -- the Pirates figure to have 80 home dates.)

That total would be the second highest ever.

"Our goal is to try to beat that 2.4 million," Mr. DePaoli said. "It's still mathematically possible to get there, but we'd need some really strong crowds from here on out."

The Pirates, who return to PNC Park tonight, have crossed the fabled threshold of 2 million only two other times -- the division-winning seasons of 1990 and '91 in Three Rivers Stadium. Last year's flirtation with a winning record drew 1,940,429, the club's fourth-best total.

But the good news of the local team selling more tickets carries with it the bad news of fewer tickets left to buy.

"People are having some trouble getting tickets at this point," Mr. DePaoli said. "[Tonight] and Saturday are expected to sell out. There's a little more availability for Sunday, but not much. We're just about down to scattered singles and standing-room only."

The team has five Saturday games remaining, and all of them are just about sold out. Individual seats for Fridays and Sundays also are going quickly.

The best way to assure yourself tickets, Mr. DePaoli said, is to purchase a prorated season-ticket package, which involves seats that the team has set aside. Or you could organize a group of 15 or more and purchase a block of seats.

Five of the remaining dates are weekday afternoons, not counting Labor Day, and August is dominated by teams from the West Coast.

Choose your date or choose your opponent, but choose them quickly.

"If the team keeps playing well, it doesn't matter who we're playing or what time we're playing," Mr. DePaoli said. "If the games keep meaning something, obviously you're going to see some very large crowds."

Wayne Camper, 42, a physician from Hampton, and his 11-year-old son, Burke, couldn't get the seats they wanted for Sunday, so they chose a couple of other games.

"We could have gotten two seats together [for Sunday], but the location was undesirable," Mr. Camper said. "I'd rather watch it on TV."

Randall Smith, 60, a postal worker from Moon, wanted three tickets to Saturday night's game to take his granddaughter and her friend. He went ahead and grabbed the standing-room tickets.

"You've got to support them while they're winning," he said. "Besides, I promised them the Saturday game, so I didn't really have much choice."

neigh_city - pirates

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1456. First Published July 20, 2012 4:00 AM


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