There are any number of reasons why Pitt's attendance has been down and Mark touched on a lot of those. To me, it's always boiled down to one simple thing:
One of Mark's graphics really makes my case pretty easily:
Take Syracuse and Louisville out of the equation here, obviously, and look at the high/low points for Pitt.
The key thing to remember is that the spike doesn't usually come in the season when the winning occurs. Having a winning season really enables the athletics department to make a big push the following year and convince fans to buy tickets in the offseason.
2003 was a great example of that. Sure, Pitt had Larry Fitzgerald on the team but the Panthers sold out the season - the only year they did that in Heinz Field. What happened in 2002? Pitt won nine games - the most they won since 1982.
Now, take a look at the next two highest attendance years - 2009 and 2010. Again, those were both off of two successful seasons for Pitt. In 2008 and 2009, the Panthers piled up 19 wins, which were the most since 1981 and 1982.
The same held true in 2001. Pitt had another great year of sales because the seven wins the program had in 2000 was the most they had in more than a decade.
See the pattern here?
Detractors might be quick to point out that there are several anomalies, but a closer look shows they can mostly be explained.
2013 was a big year for ticket sales despite the team coming off of a 6-7 season. But that's easily explained away by the killer schedule and the Panthers' first year in the ACC. Another weird year was 2008 when Pitt went 5-7 in 2007. However, the team had all kinds of optimism surrounding it after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the program, knocking off No. 1/2 West Virginia at the end of 2007. The team was also ranked in the preseason in 2008, and that made tickets an easy sell with the anticipation of a big year.
2005 is always one of those years that those against the 'just win' argument will use. However, there were several factors for low sales despite the BCS year in 2004. For starters, that team still only won eight games. There was some hype around the program, but that was far from a great team and the success was more a product of playing in a bad conference. Plus, the 2005 schedule wasn't a favorable one. Outside of a home game against Notre Dame, there really wasn't a single attractive contest on the schedule.
In the end, I think you can see that the schedule has played a factor in terms of Pitt's attendance. There may be a few oddities here that can't be explained, but the formula for Pitt to improve its attendance has always been elementary - they simply need to win on the field.