Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pittsburgh has limited spring football history, pluses in market size and stadium

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania market has been the centerpiece of the vast history of high-quality football at any level in the Western part of the state.

Pittsburgh, which is the 23rd-largest United States television market according to Nielsen, has had professional football since 1933 thanks to the six-time Super Bowl-winning Steelers. And there’s no question football fans in the Pittsburgh area are rabid, as shown by the percentage of Heinz Field seats the Steelers fill every year (94.1 percent in 2012, 97.0 percent in 2011, 97.1 percent in 2010, 97.7 percent in 2009 and 96.8 percent in 2008).

Heinz Field, open since 2001, not only is the home of the Steelers, but of the University of Pittsburgh football team, as well. It has a seating capacity of 65,050, and the Pitt Panthers averaged nearly two-thirds of that capacity last season (41,494).

Pittsburgh’s baseball-only field, PNC Park, home of the Major League Baseball Pirates, also has been open since 2001. It seats 38,362 for baseball, and while it most likely could be converted for football, it’s unlikely the Pirates would think too highly of that.

While the Steelers have been around for eight decades, Pittsburgh has only been home to one spring outdoor alternative professional football league team – the United States Football League’s Maulers in 1984. Playing in now-demolished Three Rivers Stadium and owned by Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. (father of then-San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.), the Maulers started out poorly and never could recover. They were 3-15 in their only season, averaged just 22,858 fans per home game, and folded in the aftermath of the USFL’s decision to move to the fall starting in 1986.

BOTTOM LINE – There is no question Pittsburgh could do well as a spring outdoor alternative pro football market. Heinz Field would fit the bill for any new league, and Western Pennsylvania’s rich football history adds to the attraction.

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