How the Steelers' schedule rules our world
They say time waits for no man, but Ben Roethlisberger might be an exception.
Look no further than the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, where employees juggled a frenzy of phone calls and e-mails Tuesday afternoon, rushing to lock in a prime date for the group's annual home and garden Design Fair in September.
Why the hurry now when the event is still five months away?
The release of the Steelers' schedule, of course.
"We've all had [NFL.com] on our browser for at least a month, waiting every day and checking," said Tara Merenda, a program director at the Community Design Center. "When it did come out, in a matter of minutes, I had a staff person yelling out the dates and I had two e-mails in my inbox. A half-hour after the schedule was out we had our event planned, and we could start really asking people to participate in earnest."
Scientists may argue whether a flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas, but there's no doubt that the release of the Steelers' schedule in April can determine not just the date of a design fair in Deutschtown, but also influence church concerts, high school alumni dinners, hotel rates and even weddings.
"I'm very aware that it comes out in April and I need to pay attention to that," said Deb Waterkotte, who has planned weddings in the Pittsburgh area for nearly 20 years. "I carry that schedule around with me."
This year, Ms. Waterkotte was rushing Tuesday morning to finalize a block of rooms at the Hilton Pittsburgh for an Oct. 4 wedding at Heinz Field. Booking the rooms before the Steelers schedule was announced was essential, she said, because if the Steelers were playing at home that weekend, the rooms would likely fill with Steelers fans instead of wedding guests.
At the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, employees were also on high alert for the release of the Steelers schedule. The hotel sells out every Saturday night for Steelers home games, and raises prices to capitalize on that demand (rooms start at $199 per night for Steeler weekends, compared with $179 on a non-Steeler weekend).
The trick is to get the new prices set before the flood of phone calls for reservations comes in -- as they did like clockwork just after 2 p.m. Tuesday.
"The phone calls started as soon as the schedule was released," said Melanie Koscelnak, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "They're all Steelers fans making multiple reservations for different games."
Ms. Koscelnak is thrilled with the Steelers' unusual schedule this year: because so many of the home games start at night or in the late afternoon, there's a good chance of selling out Sunday night as well as Saturday. And the Nov. 20 Thursday night game against Cincinnati guarantees a sellout on what's "typically a checkout day," she said.
But one woman's schedule satisfaction can be another's schedule sadness. At least that was the case for Tina Tuminella and her fiance, David DeLong, who are getting married at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21.
"We were hoping that we would either have a week off or a Monday night game or it would start earlier," said Mr. DeLong, of Highland Park.
But an immaculate (wedding) reception was not meant to be: The Steelers kick off at Philadelphia at 4:15, just 15 minutes before the wedding.
"Most people who are going to come to our wedding are going to come to our wedding, but I could definitely see some people giving it a second thought," said Mr. DeLong. "At least it's an away game."
Wednesday night, Ms. Tuminella did her part to try to restore order to her wedding day. When she ran into NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at an awards dinner at the Omni William Penn, she told him her predicament and asked him if he might be able to nudge the schedule around a bit.
His response: "I guess that means you'll have to find a TV for your reception."
Events in every corner of the region are affected by the Steelers' schedule, from a Christmas concert at the Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park to an annual distinguished alumni dinner for the Elizabeth Forward High School Hall of Fame.
"This year, there's only two home 1 p.m. games, so that's a nice thing with a local church with a lot of season ticket holders," said Kurt Bjorklund, senior pastor at Orchard Hill Church. "We try to be wise about things that we put up against it."
Ms. Merenda, at the Community Design Center, has seen firsthand the pitfalls of holding an event during a Steelers game. Last year, the Pittsburgh Design Fair for House and Garden ran from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Sunday when the Steelers kicked off at 4:15 in Phoenix.
Right at kickoff, the event at the Great Hall at the Priory "thinned out immediately, significantly," she said. "One exhibitor had a little TV, but you had to step out of the venue to see it. Everybody abandoned their stations. It totally ended."
Thanks to Monday Night Football, this year that problem will be solved: Ms. Merenda was able to book the event for Sunday, Sept. 28 -- the Steelers play the Ravens the following night.
"You wouldn't think it would be so important for a design show, but it just shows you the level of support and dedication that the city has for its team," she said.
House tours on the North Side in Deutschtown and the Mexican War Streets also waited until Tuesday to set a date for their fall events.
In Deutschtown, where Steeler fans descend on game days for both parking and tailgating, it would be simply impossible to hold a house tour during a home game.
"The number one reason to have a house tour in our neighborhood is to promote the positive changes," said tour organizer (and Steeler fan) Jen Saffron. "It's really hard to do that when Steeler fans are drunk, screaming vulgarities and urinating in our neighborhood. That's not our best foot forward."
The all-encompassing devotion to the Steelers also causes problems for Sal Richetti, owner of Big Day Entertainment One Stop Wedding and Event Center in the Strip District, which books entertainment and other services for weddings.
On Steelers game days, business dries up. "You can't compete with the Steelers," he said. "I'm a Steeler fan but there can't be any weddings, parties, events, bridal shows, nothing scheduled at the same time as a Steeler game. It does hurt the business."
Bonnie Walker Chirigos, owner of the event planning company Creative Affairs Inc., sees the situation differently. For one thing, she's often able to plan both private parties and corporate events with Steelers themes that coincide with the games. Also, Pittsburgh wouldn't be the city it is without a semi-maniacal Steelers obsession.
"We are fortunate to live in Pittsburgh because of the excitement -- everybody in this city is a cheerleader," said Ms. Chirigos. "I think there are multiple other cities that are jealous of what we have."
First Published April 20, 2008 12:00 am