COMMENTARY | The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing some pretty baseball so far this season, complete with a bevy of shutouts, timely hitting and unlikely comebacks. Things genuinely seem to be clicking for this team, which finds itself 10 games over the .500 mark after 46 games played.
Anyone who remotely knows anything about the Pittsburgh Pirates is aware of the ongoing, horrendous losing streak this team has earned through the last 20 years. A little bit of winning baseball should surely bring the fans out in force to see the team play at PNC Park. Right?
So far this season, that's not the case. The most beautiful park in baseball has hosted 533,127 fans so far this year during 26 home games. That number ranks 14th out of 15 teams in the National League despite the team having the third highest amount of wins in the league. The only team with worse attendance is the dreadful Miami Marlins, who trail the Buccos by nearly 100,000 fans.
The Pirates attendance also ranks 22nd out of the 30 major league teams.
On average, the team plays in front of about 20,000 fans in any given game, which is just a bit more than half of the stadium's overall capacity of 38,496. Obviously those numbers vary from day to day as fans flock to the stadium in much greater numbers during the weekends and during promotional giveaways. But the team still trails almost everyone in the National League. For example, the St. Louis Cardinals average more than 40,000 fans a game while the under performing Milwaukee Brewers still average more than 30,000 a game.
Obviously every stadium's capacity is different and each city has varying degrees of population. But Pittsburgh is also known as a rabid sports town, and has show during the last two years that fans will respond to winning baseball on the field. So why is there such a slow start in attendance this year?
For one, Pittsburgh loves its hockey team. The Penguins are currently in the midst of another run at Lord Stanley's Cup and have been playing several home games a week across town at the Consol Energy Center. Certainly those games, and even road games, have an effect on fans who'd rather stay at home and flick between the games than go watch the Pirates in person and miss out on hockey. There are plenty of fans of both teams who'll admit that a playoff hockey game takes precedence over an early season baseball game.
In addition, fans might be skeptical of the team's early-season success. Anyone who follows the team knows about the late-season collapses the past two years. Maybe some are skittish and unwilling to patronize a team that has crushed their hopes and dreams lately even after strong starts to the season. And after 20 years, it's hard to blame anyone who wishes to stay away from the ballpark.
Maybe attendance will pick up further into the summer when baseball is the only show in town. Maybe if the team's success continues well after the All Star break, fans will show up in droves later in the season. Regardless, the fans that do show up to the games have been vocal and active. Hopefully they just start showing up in larger numbers to support a team that has been putting up solid numbers.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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