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Pitt announces changes for upcoming football season

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt's athletics department dropped some news a short while ago regarding football games at Heinz Field for this coming season.

The big change is ... this one:

Expanded alcohol sales at Heinz Field: The opportunity to purchase beer will be available stadium-wide beginning this fall.

In case you've not been to Heinz Field to see a Pitt game there, one huge issue for many fans is that alcohol sales were only allowed in the club areas. If you had a ticket anywhere else in the stadium, you were mostly out of luck if you wanted a beer or other form of alcohol. Frankly, it's even been an exclusive reason for some people to buy club seats.

I knew about this move coming for some time now since it was discussed at a Fan Experience Committee meeting a few months ago. It wasn't cemented in stone by then but all signs pointed to it happening as the rollout was being prepared.

From talking to fans over the years, I know that this is a touchy subject for both sides. Many people wanted to keep things alcohol free and are fearful that this will turn into what you often see at Steelers games - certain overly drunk fans that are out of control. But keep in mind that Pitt did its homework here. They heavily researched it at other schools and the general consensus is that if you give people the opportunity to buy alcohol inside, it leads to less binge drinking before the game.

This is an older article, but it still holds true. West Virginia is one school that saw significantly fewer incidents after immediately allowing stadium sales. The more people I've talked to, the more that seems to be a consensus.

One huge benefit is that alcohol sales can be a major revenue source, obviously. There is a pretty significant cost that schools see up front, but after that, it can bring in a lot of money. One question I asked at the Fan Experience Meeting was if Pitt had seen schools stop selling after making the leap - my (small) concern was about that up front cost to get things off the ground. However, none were known. This appears to be a win for the schools that are doing it.

A smaller benefit is that it should also help to get people inside the stadium a little sooner. If there's not the need to squeeze one more beer in, it might result in kickoff crowd to be a little fuller.

I'm not saying there won't be problems. There always are, after all, when alcohol is involved. But if there's a chance for more revenue and actually fewer binge drinking incidents beforehand, it sounds like a good idea. I get that everyone will not be in support of it, but there are a majority of fans that should be very happy with it. One selling point for me in particular is that Pitt is not on some test pilot deal here. I mean that in the sense that they're not the first ones trying this. Several schools are currently doing it and I feel better about it knowing that the results have been mostly positive.

One other thing from the announcement I wanted to touch on was that Pitt is introducing an initiative to reward people in their seats and not just buying tickets. This was another thing the Fan Experience Committee spent quite a bit of time talking about. Pitt getting fans to come to games has always been a problem and we discussed if there was a way to try to fix that. Pitt's release says that an award certificate for people there (that bought a season ticket or mini season ticket package) will get an exclusive gift certificate or discount. No, I don't know what it is or how substantial it will be. But it's at least a step in the right direction and shows Pitt is trying to find ways to reward people for actually showing up.

That may need to evolve if the incentives aren't great enough. Again, however, it's a start.

Other initiatives listed were all things that were also broached in the Fan Experience Committee meetings over the past year:

  • Continued student section initiatives to students to come and stay
  • Single-game parking
  • Pregame tailgate party improvements
  • Pitt gameday live app
  • More script gear at the stadium
A lot of people have asked me what the Committee has been up to, etc., and were disappointed to not see more changes last year. But keep in mind that implementing things then was a little more difficult since we didn't really get underway until the end of summer or early fall. Going into last season, we knew that a few more changes would be rolled out this year when we had some time to gather data, input, etc.

Of course these things weren't exclusive to that group or even the athletics department, obviously. As Scott Barnes said in the presser, in addition to the Committee, Pitt took a lot from the end of season survey that went out. And to some degree, most of these items have been targets of fans for years. But the end result that you should take away here is that the athletics department is listening to fans - certainly much more than in the past.
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