Can The Pirates Educate A Walking Dead Fanbase?

It’s a sentence that is on the lips of all of the die easy Pittsburgh Pirates fans.  It’s usually said in a thick Pittsburgh accent.  It’s said in a frustrating tone, hardened from years of enduring beat downs taken by their favorite baseball team.  It’s their solution and they are convinced it can work.

A large number of Pirates fans believe the answer is an easy one.  The fans aren’t baseball savvy any longer because most of them have long ago given up on the religion that their fathers had instilled in them.  Pirates baseball seems dead to a lot of Pittsburghers. 

The losing has turned them into the walking dead.  The consistent losing by the Bucs has numbed most of the Pirates faithful, turning a large number into a legion of zombies that is led to one of the best parks in America to watch fireworks, concerts, and celebrations of a baseball era long, long ago.  The baseball team has died to them.  

We have all heard it.  We can’t blame the average Pirates fan.  Hell, I am practically one of them.   They fall in love with certain players because the team has stunk up MLB for such a long period of time.  But deep down, whether we are sitting in the stands at PNC Park, or checking out Pittsburgh Sports Tavern, maybe even downing tequila shots at at our local watering hole, Pirates fans all have the same goal.   

We just want our storied franchise to win. 

Yet the sentence that is on the lips of so many of the Pirates walking dead will do very little to help the team become winners in 2011.

Frank Coonelly and the Pirates organization talk about the need to educate the average baseball fan.  But is it just lip service?  Why would the organization downsize the Pirates caravan if their  goal is to educate average fans?   It doesn’t add up.  We would think if the Pirates want to increase sales, it would increase their grass roots efforts.  Everywhere I look, I see Pirates fans left for dead.

The product is marketable.  The players are fan friendly.  The team should win more, especially on the road yet the team never gave up despite losing over 100 games.  But it all seems to be falling on deaf zombie-like ears.   Has all the losing started to take its toll?

One would think with a little more effort, not lip service, the base could grow.  It truly could continue to grow and should grow in 2011.  Hell, it must.  There is no alternative. 

We’re not sure that it’s possible to educate enough average Pirates fans to get them in the seats in 2011.  To get them to attend more games than just the opener.  But some of the walking dead believe that attending games at PNC Park is seen as supporting the losers.  Supporting the evil Bob Nutting.  It’s sad. 

The game behind the game of baseball has changed.  The fans expectations haven’t changed.  It’s simple for the fans.  On the surface, the average Pirates fans want the Bucs to spend like horny, drunk sailor boys.   But maybe, just maybe, that’s not the case for the majority of the average fans. 

If average fans were giving up on the team why did the Pirates attendance rise two percent over the attendance from 2009?  The numbers weren’t inflated due to bobble heads, the Bucs had the fewest number of bobblehead giveaways since the 90’s.  The team certainly limited the amount of dollar nights so that didn’t falsely raise the attendance.  The skyblast nights never hurt, but personally we don’t drive over an hour to check out fireworks. 

The burning question is how do the Pirates fill up more seats?  Do more fireworks games?  We really don’t give a shit what promotions are held as long as it helps the Pirates secure their young talent to long term deals.  Lead the zombies to the bright lights and big booms in the sky.  We don’t give a shit how you get them to the park, just get them there, the Bucs will need the dough sooner than one may think.  

Pirates fans know something good is happening in Pittsburgh.  But will it be enough?  The fans, while not in an overwhelming majority, are holding up their end, but are the Pirates?

The best way the Pirates can educate casual fans is to win.  We know the Pirates are trying to do it the right way.  Even if you don’t agree with every decision the organization makes, there is no question the Pirates are going about it the right way.   Why doesn’t the average, casual fan realize this fact?  We think it boils down to the win loss record.  And the Pittsburgh media.

The media loves a villian.  In Pittsburgh sports, the Pirates are every media personalities punchline, their bad guy.   How can they not be?

A few days ago, free agency began.  Will the Pirates make a big splash?  Of course not, the game is changed.  It would be nearly impossible for the Pirates to generate enough revenue to secure the level of free agents that will make a dramatic impact.  A collection of five to seven win players is out of the question for the Pirates.  It’s risky too.  And think about it.  One wrong move in the FA market can cripple a franchise like the Bucs. 

The average fan thinks fixing the Pirates is easy, it’s not.  The average fan believes the Pirates could be fixed quickly too.   

The gamble goes like this.  The Pirates need to sign the free agents they feel can impact the team the most.  Then the club must pray at least two things happen.  One:  The player is exciting enough that it increases ticket sales before the first game is ever played.   The average fan wants to go see this popular player–it’s a player that puts butts in the seats.   

Two:  The new player must start the season hot which would fill up the park in the difficult months for attendance like April and May.   It’s truly a bonus if the new player can become someone that will draw fans throughout the season.

In order for the Pirates to justify the payroll, it would need to be determined how much return can be gained, how many asses would a certain free agent player put in the seats of PNC Park?  Did people come to see Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church?  Ugh, no. 

How about players that weren’t bought on the free agent market like Pedro, Tabata, Walker, and McCutchen?  Sure they did, but how many?  It’s difficult to measure.   But the certain path to a turnaround is through the draft and then using free agency to supplement the team.  It’s not built the other way any longer.

We remember the walkup at McCutchen’s debut was reported to be near 5,000.  For a team like the Bucs who are in full rebuild mode, free agency is a gamble that rarely provides the return on the investment that the ballclub needs.

But let’s play along anyway.  So if the easy answer is the team must win, then how many free agent players would it take to make the Pirates winners in 2011? Probably too many. 

How much would those players cost on the market?  Probably too much. 

So until the wins start flowing and eyeballs return to PNC Park, the large corporate sponsors will stay away or remain on their modest current plans.   The impact of companies moving into the region for the Marcellus Shale will cause an uptick.  But will it be enough to offset the sponsors lost, until the winning can return? 

Another consideration we believe is long overdue is the ticket prices need to increase.  (Not drastically, but come on is the product or service where you work the same price it was ten years ago?) But you can bet your ass, the outcry from the media and the walking dead would be too great.  Ticket prices are stuck in 1995.   It’s Pirates economics and it sucks.

Meanwhile, the average fan probably thinks the team is struggling to simply fill the manager uniform.   Let’s Go Bucs!

At the very least, the entire education of the fan base is a big challenge.  Most are sick of hearing about five year plans.  Sponsors have heard it all before too.  Those same sponsors that would partner with the Bucs, canvas the outfield walls, as well as the corprate suites, will be back.  It’s just a matter of time. 

The whole thing is simply a major undertaking.  Not only is the team being rebuilt, but essentially the fanbase is too.  And marketing to zombies is hard.



Best video you will see today. God I am addicted to trick plays and the people in Texas come up with great ones.


The Pirates Caravan Recap link from Mondesis House above is one you don’t want to miss. Check out all the Bucs from back in the glory days of the Caravan trips to Erie…well, back when it made it to Erie.  The post even has some shots from Pirates Picture Day too…Even Dale Berra made the cut?


Five Things Girls Do To Improve Their Facebook Pages. Be careful out there people.  


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