Pitt has sold about 12,000 more season tickets this year than last year, but the athletic department still has some work to do to reach its goal of selling out Heinz Field for every game.
A little more than 34,000 season tickets plus an additional 7,000 student season tickets have been sold, athletic director Steve Pederson said. Heinz Field's official capacity for college football is 65,050, but the most season tickets Pitt could sell is around 55,000. About 5,000 tickets per game are held for opponents and another 5,000 for corporate sponsors.
In 2003, the only time Pitt has sold out its season ticket allotment, 42,544 non-club season ticket packages were sold, along with 10,000 student ticket season packages and about 5,100 club seat season packages for a total of 57,644-- about 16,000 more than this season.
The Panthers were a preseason top 15 in 2003 and had home games against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami. Pitt also had a Heisman Trophy candidate in Larry Fitzgerald.
Although the season isn't a sellout, Pederson is happy with the way things have gone and he expects to continue to sell season-ticket packages right through Saturday's opener against Bowling Green. He also expects the team's success -- the Panthers are predicted to have a winning season -- to generate more interest and increase single-game ticket sales.
"A year ago we had a season-ticket base of just under 30,000 and this year we just went over 41,000," Pederson said. "So we're excited about that. We feel like that is a pretty dramatic jump and we're still selling. But we feel pretty good about where we are right now.
"And the fan initiatives were so important to us and to make the game day bigger than kickoff to the end of the game. I really believe if people come down a couple hours early, they will have a great time and that's people of all ages."
Pederson is optimistic that with the fan initiatives and the Rib Fest, the crowd Saturday will be close to 50,000. He said the 3,000 remaining allotted student season tickets are still "selling like crazy."
Pitt is offering a special deal for those who purchased a single-game ticket ($25) for the opener. They will be allowed to roll that price into a season-ticket plan ($99) and purchase the remaining five games for $74.
"We know there are people out there still trying to feel us out and that plan sort of gives them a chance to come and see us and then decide," Pederson said. "We're hopeful that they have a good time and like what they see and then decide to buy the rest of the season."
Pederson and his staff, led by assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions Chris Ferris, aren't just selling tickets. They also are organizing a student tailgate on the Great Lawn across North Shore Drive from Heinz Field and what they are calling the "World's Largest Family Tailgate" along Art Rooney Avenue outside the stadium.
For the student tailgate, the athletic department will sell "tailgate packs" complete with hamburgers or hot dogs or some other grillable meat to students for $3 per head (the total price for the pack is $24 but each pack feeds eight). There also will be live bands and a DJ starting three hours before kickoff.
Student groups are encouraged to make wooden standards bearing their names, and they will be allowed on the field to form a tunnel for the players to run through.
Ferris said the family tailgate will include food and drink for purchase, games, a JumboTron showing Pitt highlights and live feeds from other games and a number of other activities to "bring the North Shore alive."
"When you talk about great programs, you talk about winning, facilities, tradition, academics and fan support and student body support," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I am excited, I just saw the students are going to be [on the Great Lawn], that fires me up because now they are right there across the parking lot from where the action is and I think that is a huge step in the right direction."