The second year of the Kevin Stallings era at Pitt is off to the turbulent start everyone saw coming. After wrapping up their 13-game nonconference schedule by eking out a 63-59 comeback win over Towson on Friday night, the Panthers sit at 8-5 heading into ACC play, and things figure to take a turn for the worse when No. 6 Miami comes to town next Saturday.
During the early goings of the season, Pitt fans have turned out in record-low numbers, and there’s little wonder why, considering the Panthers struggled to beat a genuinely terrible Delaware State team, needed overtime to top middling Mount St. Mary’s and kicked things off by going 1-4 — the team’s worst start through five games since the 1996-97 season.
Specifically, the Panthers drew a crowd of just 2,685 to the UC Santa Barbara game on Nov. 15, which at the time was the smallest crowd ever at the Petersen Events Center in the regular season. That record has since been broken twice, as the High Point game only drew 2,399 on Nov. 28, and a record-low 2,333 fans attended the Mount St. Mary’s matchup on Dec. 5.
While those figures are the worst of the worst, they’re unfortunately not anomalous. In fact, only one game at the Pete has drawn a crowd of over 3,500 fans this season, and that was when No. 18 West Virginia renewed the Backyard Brawl after a five-year hiatus. The attendance for that game was 7,748, and even that was just 62 percent of the Pete’s 12,508-seat capacity.
If those numbers sound worrisome, they should. During this year’s slate of nine nonconference games at the Petersen Events Center, Pitt drew an average crowd of 3,324. That’s down 51 percent from 6,729 over eight games last year, itself down from 7,741 over 10 games in Jamie Dixon’s final season coaching the Panthers.
While last year’s nonconference attendance was a step in the wrong direction, the fact that it only took a slight dip suggested fans were still willing to give Stallings the benefit of the doubt. This year’s figures, which come after Stallings led a team with two players now plying their trade in the NBA G League to a 4-14 ACC record, suggest the patience of the fanbase has waned.
With that said, attendance is expected to pick up when conference play gets underway, as it usually does. But even with some top-level competition slated to stop by the Pete this season, it appears the damage has already been done — at least from a historical standpoint.
At this point, even if Pitt sells out all nine of its remaining home games, its average attendance would only be 7,916 for the season, which would be the lowest average attendance in the history of the Petersen Events Center. The current low is 8,327, which was set last season. However, that record won’t stand for long.