Want to know the truth? Spring football doesn't excite me all that much.
It still means football is several months away and teams aren't even complete as the freshmen aren't even around yet. And while some guys can impress in pads, it really doesn't mean all that much. Even the scrimmages are deceptive - remember in last year's Blue-Gold game when a certain maligned quarterback threw for 400+ yards. Yeah, neither do I.
Seriously, I rarely go to the Blue-Gold game and it's hard to get behind the event. This year, Pitt has decided to go head back to a high school venue and while it's not a huge deal, I prefer holding the event at Heinz Field. This is big time college football ... at least it's supposed to be. In spring games when big time programs can sell out or come close to selling out their stadiums, Pitt falls flat on its face.
Nothing will drum up interest like winning, but there are things Pitt can do to improve the event. If I were in charge, here's what I'd do.
Give away free tickets - lots of them: Pitt has a problem drawing attendance and with a weak schedule this year, that could again be the case. Pitt isn't entirely well off, but they're not hurting for money, either (as they recently showed by throwing bad money at the CBI this season). I'm sure there will be some token giveaways of a few tickets, but I'd go all out and really try to drum up interest. Give everyone that shows up a pair of tickets to a game. Sure, many of them have season tickets anyway, but they could give them away. You'd not only have more people at the games, but you'd also make money in concessions and merchandise sales. People would be more willing to spend money at a game if they didn't pay anything to go.
There's more Pitt could do - plenty more ...
Give away free food: That's right, I said free food. I'm not talking about making it an open buffet, but give everyone a free hot dog and a drink. If the Pirates can have dollar night, Pitt can eat that cost and give one away to everyone that shows up. You'll draw more people and those people will end up spending more on concessions anyway.
Get the alumni involved: I know there are usually autograph sessions with the current players and while some alumni may show up, I'd make an all out concerted effort to bring them back in droves. Pitt has had football games where they've honored a few hundred at a time - I'd try to bring back every former Pitt player in the area. Let them know what it's about - getting more support for the program. Make 50 of them available for autographs. Send another 50 of them around the stadium. The university won't be able to lure back the primadonnas or the ones that don't really care about the program all that much, but if Pitt can't get 100 or so alumni to get behind this thing, then they're in more trouble than I thought.
Give the fans some all access capabilities: Have a drawing to let 50 fans get access onto the sidelines during the game. I know, sounds preposterous, right? Guess what - it's a spring game. It's meaningless. No one's suggesting you let them rub shoulders with Paul Chryst or try to give Tino Sunseri tips on how to avoid pass rushes, but let them stand around behind the benches. There's no harm in that and it's something some fans would be interested in.
Get the Steelers involved: Look, let me be blunt. I'm not a Steelers fan. Even the thought of the local pro team makes me nauseous. But they're the biggest thing in this town and if hundreds will show up for a Giant Eagle autograph session with some midcarder, imagine what you could draw by getting a couple of decent players to agree to do the same at the Blue-Gold game? Would that be selling out to a degree? Absolutely. But it would improve the attendance and who knows - Steelers fans that don't care about Pitt might even take a passing interest. For a day, anyway.
None of these things by themselves may draw all that many more people, but put them all together and I think it's a recipe for a significantly larger crowd.