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Pitt merchandise updates and more for 2016 football season

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With Pitt's football season finally here, I had some updates I wanted to share from our Fan Experience Committee meetings. None of this is earth-shattering stuff and it's all relatively small, but here are a few update-type things. Some of the items have been discussed before, but I wanted to add a little insight into the conversations, which I thought might be helpful and give some additional perspective since I get asked quite a bit about them.

The biggest update on new stuff heading into this year can be found here in an article I wrote back in June. There's a lot of info there, so check it out if you haven't already.

Now, in case you haven't seen it yet, Pitt has a new Gameday App, which they announced publicly today. This was something that the committee brought to the athletics department as a way to better share game day information with fans attending the games. Pitt previously had an app, but significantly upgraded it and had a media blitz of sorts to really promote it. Here's a full rundown of what's included, how to download it, etc.

The idea with the app from the committee's perspective is that there had to be a better way to share more information with people coming to games, etc. The app was important because it's something that can be accessed at the last minute on game day for information, etc. It's really intended to be sort of a one-stop-shop for fans needing information about the game, about Heinz Field, etc.

Regarding the actual game day, there will be some changes to the atmosphere as well. Pitt wanted to truly make it more of an active atmosphere for people not doing their own things in the lots. We all know that Pitt is selling alcohol in the stadium during the game, but another change will be that there will be alcohol sales outside of the stadium as well. Pitt has always sold food, had activities for kids, etc., and that is all staying. But the new addition will be the special tailgate tents opening three hours before the game, which will have alcohol for sale. If you've been to a Steelers game before, these are the same tents utilized for that.

In addition, there will be a mobile LED truck broadcasting Game Day or actual games, depending on the time of day. The mobile truck won't be happening this weekend with Rib Fest there, but will be in place the rest of the year.

Merchandise has been a big focal point. In our last meeting, they actually had an internal merchandising director, which answered questions and went into a good amount of detail about what they've been doing on that front. I'll try to summarize that here.

One thing the athletics department has heard numerous complaints on is the lack of in-stadium Pitt gear for sale. While I can't speak to specifics, there should be a noticeable difference this year. Script gear will be there obviously and they really tried to address things like having more options, including enough different sizes, etc. If you're looking to buy merchandise at the stadium, the selection will be better. This wasn't only about getting more gear there in terms of quantity. It was also about improving the selection and range of items/sizes available to meet demand.

Outside of the stadium, Pitt has also been putting in a ton of marketing efforts to make getting apparel and other items easier. They have been working hard with retail partners to get Pitt gear into more stores and in the cases of the stores that already had items, getting them to carry even more. I don't have all of the numbers in front of me, but Pitt made great strides in this area in terms of the number of stores carrying items. You should start seeing Pitt gear pop up in places that didn't previously have it.

One way they did this was to strategically target areas with high populations of Pitt fans from their mailing lists, databases, etc. Obviously, it makes the most sense to hit up the stores where the fanbase is likely to go so that's what they did.

In line with that, one complaint has been that they needed to have more women's and kids' apparel at those locations that already carried items. That is something they've been working hard on as well and selection at places where you can find Pitt apparel should improve. In addition to apparel, they've also been working hard to get more unique items in stores like tailgating supplies, etc.

And while I don't want to make this all about merchandise, Pitt sent out this merchandise catalog over the summer via email and on their website. If you hover over the items, it actually tells you where you can find them - whether it's the campus store or at other retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods. Again, not all about merchandise but as you can see, it's a big point of emphasis they've focused on over the summer. Fans have had lots of complaints about it and they really tried to address those.

Okay, jumping off of merchandise, so branding inside the stadium has been an issue. Unfortunately, I'm not here to tell you that you're going to show up to a blue and gold stadium with only Pitt stuff. That would be unrealistic and some things that they'd like to change simply cannot be done due to sharing the stadium with a pro team in the Steelers. But I will also say that Pitt is striving to make inroads here as well. You should see some things like some new signage and a bit more of a Pitt presence.

Now, I'm only the messenger, folks. And the athletics department specifically didn't/couldn't share everything that is changing for this year, so even if I wanted to tell you, I couldn't. But the point is that they are working to make things a little more Pitt-centric. We won't find out exactly how much until Saturday, but again, just know that through things like the Experience Committee and the survey, they are aware that fans see it as a problem.

Also at the stadium, you'll see some new food options this year. Pitt has been working with Aramark on that front for some new stuff and that will be there this fall. Not being super secretive here, but I honestly don't even remember what they were to tell you the truth. Just another updated item for this season.

Regarding students and working to keep them in their seats for the full games, Pitt is again going to be doing the snack/drink thing as an incentive for those who stay. It seemed to work well last year so it was welcome news that they are keeping it. They're also doing a better job in trying to spread the word out to students as far as options to get to and from the games. In addition to this page on the website with transportation info for students, they sent out a mass email about it this week with the different options available, including getting a single-game parking pass for those want to drive.

Again, nothing earth-shattering here. But (and trying to remove my bias here) the school is definitely making some progress in trying to make the fan experience a little more enjoyable. From things like adding alcohol, improving merchandise options, making parking more accessible, etc., the athletics department is doing its best to listen to some of the complaints that have been out there.

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