Don't look now, but Pitt's football attendance is on the rise.
No, the Panthers didn't sell out their seats for the 2015 season. And yes, some showings were still somewhat disappointing (see Louisville, North Carolina, and Miami). But in terms of actual ticket sales, Pitt made an impressive jump this year. More specifically, the Panthers had the single greatest rise in attendance from 2014 to 2015 of any P5 program, per a recent report cited by the Post-Gazette.
In 2014, Pitt averaged a little over 43,000 tickets sold per game and that number rose to over 48,000 this year.
As the PG mentions, that increase should be taken in the proper context. For one thing, the 43,000 figure from 2014 was a huge drop from the previous year. And a bump was to be expected after the offseason hiring of Pat Narduzzi and all the excitement that was generated around the program with a new coach, new AD, and later, the announcement of the return of the Pitt script, which fans are so passionate about. After such a poor 2014, the numbers almost had to go up by default.
But even despite that, there's reason to be optimistic about the attendance figure. For one thing, it showed that if you give fans a reason to come, they generally will. Pitt got off to a 6-1 start and that helped sell some tickets. The Panthers also have scooped up Military Bowl tickets as if there were no tomorrow. There's a lot of enthusiasm around the program right now and that has generated a lot of sales. All of that, too, is after a good, but not great, 8-4 season. Imagine the sort of sales Pitt can generate if the team were to win ten regular season games. At the end of the day, the Panthers aren't in some impossible position. If you win games and play some good opponents, you'll sell tickets. It's a pretty simple formula, really.
One thing that is only partially under the program's control is the home schedule every year. This year, Pitt was blessed with a pretty good one that featured Notre Dame, a Thursday night matchup against North Carolina, and the Miami game at the end of the season. Next year, there's Penn State, but potentially not much else (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Marshall, Villanova, Duke, Syracuse). The Panthers do get the desirable seven home contests, but there's not a guaranteed draw after the Nittany Lions - particularly if Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech aren't able to rebound from down seasons. How that translates into actual sales for 2016 will surely be something to watch.
There is work to be done, of course. And as mentioned in that PG article, athletic director Scott Barnes wants to find a way to get more people to show up since those figures, after all, are tickets sold and not actual attendance. But the previous numbers were also for tickets sold, so comparatively speaking, Pitt is clearly headed in the right direction.
Now, it's a matter of continuing to win and generating more buzz in the offseason to get a jump on next year.