By: Brandon Kurzawski
“Pirates fans is more of an older generation than it is a younger generation because (we) never had the chance to see them when they were good,” Barton, 22, who works at Rally House on the North Shore, said. “…We gear more toward Steelers and Penguin fans since they have been somewhat consistently good in the past 20-30 years.”
Seth Dotson, 23, also works at the Rally House alongside Barton. He has also noticed the same trend when it comes to Pirates’ gear in his store and around the city.
“This is a supply and demand issue: They’re not performing well on the field, so many people are not going to want to pay the prices they’re asking for,” Dotson said.
Comparing the last time that the Pirates went to the playoffs in 2015 to now is a completely different team to Dotson. Back in 2015, people tell the stories of how there used to be plenty of street venues around the North Shore selling Pirates gear. There even used to be people playing live music to earn a living.
According to ESPN, PNC Park baseball games averaged 30,846 fans in 2015. Compared to now, the average attendance has drastically shrunk by about 65% to only 10,611 fans per game.
Flashforward to the end of the 2021 season, only one sole street vendor could be seen around PNC Park. No live music performers were visible around the streets.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance numbers were still significantly lower than 2015 with an average of 18,413 fans per game in 2019.
Even with low attendance numbers, loyal fans still show up to Pirates’ baseball games. Chatham University freshman Madison Zarone enjoys going to PNC Park for the atmosphere and food, but finds the Pirates performance less enjoyable to watch.
“It’s hard because they’re your team and you want to support, but going to a quiet and empty stadium is just disheartening and no longer enjoyable like games used to be years ago,” Zarone said.
While many people may blame the Pirates’ players for their poor performance this season, Dotson blames the owners for trading away the good players.
“The reason why people are not coming down is because the lack of talent that Pirates have,” Dotson said. “The lack of passion that (The Pirates) owners have is spewing out into our players and home. He trades away every one of our standout players that we get and it just puts us back to square one.”
Even with an underperforming baseball team, the North Shore still hangs on with local bars still busy in the area.
However, not all the business loss is because of the Pirates’ poor 2021 season. According to a survey released by the National Restaurant Association, over 110,000 restaurants closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Allegheny Grille located on the side of PNC Park was forced to close its doors due to a lack of staffing. An entire section of businesses along West General Robinson Street is currently vacant.
While the Pirates may not be doing well on the field, Point Point University Business Professor Robert Derta finds that events held at PNC Park have been helping local businesses around PNC Park which attract crowds to the North Shore.
“Larger crowds means more business,” Derda said. “There have been Pirates promotional nights this past season that have drawn crowds large enough to support local restaurants, hotels and bars. In addition to baseball games, you must consider the 250+ Pirates non-game day events held at PNC Park which create additional opportunities for local businesses.”
With the Pirates lacking the standard of Pittsburgh’s City of Champions, little confidence resides in some fans.
“There was a better kind of vibe around the city; people were actually excited to see (the pirates) doing well—they were actually excited for playoff baseball,” Dotson said.
On the other hand, Derta feels that some fans may still have confidence for the upcoming 2022 season because of all the new people on the team.
“Fans appear to be generally excited about the young team that the Pirates front office has assembled. Next year is an important season to show off their young talent and spark added excitement among fans,” Derta said.