Political football: Steelers tickets hard to get
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When the Steelers played in the Super Bowl in 1996, they offered some local politicians an all-expenses-paid trip to Tempe, Ariz., for the game. In 2006, many public officials had the chance to score tickets from the Steelers -- if they paid face value.
But this Super Bowl could become a super letdown for at least some politicians hoping to attend the game. Their ticket source could end up being eBay or a game-day scalper.
As of yesterday, some city council members were still waiting to learn whether the Steelers would make tickets available to them at face value, as they did three years ago. Prices range anywhere from $500 to $1,000.
Before the last two Super Bowls, the team wrote to city council members after the AFC Championship Game with details of their offers, said Councilman Bill Peduto, who already has booked a flight to Florida and made hotel reservations. But so far council members haven't gotten a ticket offer this time.
"It's just different than what they did for the past two," he said. "I'm assuming at some point they will let us know if we have the opportunity."
Politicians who won't have to resort to Craigslist for tickets include Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, both of whom are planning to attend the game.
Both have access to tickets through the Steelers, and Mr. Onorato said he also will have the chance to fly to Tampa on a team charter. He said he would pay for the tickets, the plane ride and whatever hotel accommodations he ends up making.
Mr. Ravenstahl is still finalizing his arrangements and didn't know whether he would use the tickets the Steelers offered, spokeswoman Joanna Doven said. He intends to announce his plans next week, she said.
Gov. Ed Rendell and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District and a Stadium Authority board member, also received offers of tickets and travel from the Steelers.
Mr. Rendell may get tickets from the team and would pay face value for them but "will not accept any of the rest of their gracious offer," spokesman Chuck Ardo said. Mr. Wheatley said he hasn't decided whether he will go. If he does, he will make his own arrangements to get to Tampa. If the Steelers offer a room, he might take it but plans to pay for it.
"I believe in paying your way," he said.
Those politicians apparently are part of a select group who received offers from the Steelers. County Council President Rich Fitzgerald said he had not received an offer from the team and is not aware of any other members getting one. State Sens. Wayne Fontana and Sean Logan, both city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority board members with oversight over Heinz Field, said they had not heard from the team.
The Steelers declined comment, saying it was up to individual public officials "to comment on their situations."
Nonetheless, access to coveted Super Bowl tickets at face value as well as possible team-sanctioned plane travel to Tampa are perks typically not afforded the general public.
Fans who want to attend the games must find their own tickets, often at inflated prices, and make their own arrangements. Even for Steelers season ticketholders, access to Super Bowl tickets depended on the luck of a lottery.
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause/Pa, a government watch dog group, said that even if politicians are paying for tickets, there's an "important value related to those kinds of gifts, even if they are not free" and it should be avoided. Elected official are not prohibited from gaining special access to tickets that they pay for.
He noted that city and county officials sometimes are called upon to deal with matters involving the team.
The mayor, for instance, appoints members of the Stadium Authority board, which oversees the land being developed between Heinz Field and PNC Park by the Steelers and Pirates. Both he and Mr. Onorato also appoint members to the board of the SEA, which owns Heinz Field. The Steelers also have a request pending before the state for a $4 million grant for an entertainment complex next to their stadium.
"You always have to worry about when those kind of benefits are offered what could be the ultimate impact on public policy," Mr. Kauffman said.
His advice to politicians who have or who want access to tickets from the Steelers?
"I would advise them to stay away from it. That way their judgment could not be called into question," he said.
But Mr. Onorato said he saw no problem with accepting tickets or a plane ride as long as he paid for it. He said he saw the offer "purely as a function of the office I hold."
"I plan on going and I plan on paying for it and I plan on representing the county while I'm down there," he said.
Likewise, Mr. Ardo defended Mr. Rendell's access to tickets from the Steelers.
"I think the public expects the governor of a state whose team is represented in the Super Bowl to attend. I believe that it would be petty to argue that he doesn't deserve to go," he said.
He said the offer would have no impact on the $4 million grant request.
"If [Mr. Rendell] buys tickets, it's because he wants to go see the Super Bowl, not because of any economic development project that may be on the books," he said.
Mr. Wheatley, who cast key Stadium Authority votes in August to approve the sale of land for the entertainment complex and a North Shore hotel project, saw no conflict in buying tickets from the team if he decides to do that.
"I'm paying for it. I think any Pittsburgher or Steelers fan in his right mind who was offered two tickets and a hotel room near the stadium, if they had the wherewithal to do it, they would do it," he said.
Unless the Steelers come through with a last-minute offer, Mr. Peduto, a critic of the Stadium Authority land deals, plans to head to the Tampa area without tickets. He said he may end up watching the game "in a Tampa bar with a bunch of other Steelers fans who can't get in."
Or he might just look for a scalper.
"[Tickets] should be affordable after halftime," he said.
First Published January 24, 2009 12:00 am