Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates front office have to be absolutely giddy with the Bucs 4-1 record, but they must also be worried sick about the Bucs attendance for their home opener on Monday.
Pittsburgh Pirates Attendance Numbers put Damper on Hot Start
Only 30,186 fans paid tickets to see the game, far fewer than the 36,404 people who showed up for the opener last year. While the weather for Monday’s opener was far from ideal, with temperatures in the high 30s and chilly winds, it’s worth noting that most Pirates openers have been played in similar weather conditions. This was the first time the Pirates didn’t sell out a PNC Park home opener since it’s original opening in 2001. In the past, Pirates fans have attended openers no matter the team’s prospects, considering that the Pirates lost more than 90 games eight times in the first 11 years of the park’s existence.
The lack of an opening-day sellout also comes on the heels of a significant attendance decline at the park over the last two years. Since drawing 2,498,596 fans in 2015, attendance dropped to 2,249,201 in 2016 and 1,919,447 last year. All this came while the Pirates win total of 98 in 2015 plummeted to 78 in 2016 and 75 last year.
Off-Season Trades Spark Outcry
In the off-season, there was a lot of public outcry among Bucco fans after the team traded stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole for a variety of prospects. Neither player acquired for McCutchen made the opening-day roster, while pitcher Joe Musgrove, a key part of the Cole deal, is opening the season on the disabled list.
What upset Pirates fans more than anything, though, was that the Pirates failed to use any of the $21 million saved in those deals to acquire some much-needed talent. In fact, the Pirates were the only team to not sign a free agent in the off-season. As the season began, their payroll of $86.9 million was the 27th-highest in the majors.
There were cries for a boycott of the Bucs, with the hope of forcing the team’s owners into spending more money on the payroll. A number of fans reportedly dropped their season tickets, and tickets on secondary outlets were reportedly going for prices below face value.
Until Monday, it was hard to gauge the actual discontent. Now, the Pirates know how upset fans are. So, how low could attendance drop? Well, the Pirates lowest attendance at PNC Park came in 2009, when they only drew 1,577,853 fans. They finished last that year in the NL Central, with a 62-99 record.
Of course, one way to increase attendance is to field a winning team. But there have been some troubling signs even during their hot streak. While the Pirates team batting average of .260 is fourth in the National League, the team’s earned run average of 4.96 is 12th. The Pirates young pitching staff could well be the biggest obstacle in the road to respectability.