What Will It Take For The Pittsburgh Pirates To Become Respectable Again?


So you really want to know the answer to the Pittsburgh Pirates becoming cool, becoming respectable in this town again?

It’s really simple:  they need to win, right?   But in order to win consistently they need a generous increase in the amount of revenue the team generates.  Don’t roll your eyes, we aren’t a fan of the Bob Nutting Empire either, but in order for the Pirates to compete, it has to happen.

A while ago, we read a Wall Street Journal Bestseller, Marketing Outrageously by Jon Spoelstra.  It’s an easy page turner that has a foreword by Pittsburgh’s own Mark Cuban.  We would have to think most of the Pirates executives have read the book.

The premise of the book hit home for us when we attended Piratesfest.  The Pirates have a huge scapegoat that they can’t seem to shake, or maybe ownership cares not to shake–but the point is this one.  The Pirates don’t have the cash to win.  It’s such a small market.  Blah, blah, and blah.

Spoelstra doesn’t think in terms of excuses.  When he consults with sports teams he asks one big questiona and then a few others.   There is no doubt that each of the questions he asks are challenging to answer.

Spoelstar isn’t a blogger.  He isn’t just another hot shot business writer.  Far, far…from it.  He knows his stuff and has proven it in several smaller markets throughout professional sports.

He is President of Mandalay Baseball Properties which owns seven minor league franchises.   In fact, MBP owns a minor-league team in the rust belt of Dayton, Ohio where the ball club has sold out every damn seat for the Dayton Dragons.  

The team hasn’t just sold out a few games.  The Dragons have sold every seat, every game, every season.

So after I read the book, I applied some of the principles to my place of business, then I thought, maybe the fundamental principles can be applied to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I believe most of us have heard that money is the end all scapegoat for most of the Pirates problems.

So why not fix the money problem?  That’s the big question he asks when he meets with teams–what will it take for the team this season to win a championship?

Woah…the naysayers tell us that Pittsburgh is a small market.  Yep.  That would be correct.  So they really stop there?

When we look at it, we think that money isn’t the problem.  The Pittsburgh Pirates true problem is the organization simply doesn’t have enough good ideas.

The Pirates don’t have enough mojo.

The Pirates don’t have enough swag.



Those are the real problems with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  That’s the reason the team doesn’t have enough money.  Great ideas=Great amounts of currency.

Instead of trying to figure out how they will be able to afford their homegrown talent in a few years, the team should be working on how they can be the coolest team in the league?  How can they be the best at everything they do.  What will doing this things take?

We can think of one thing.  Money.  With cash, the Bucs can sign Andrew McCutchen.  Hell, with an increase in revenue the ballclub can sign players that normally would book their own private plane out of Pittsburgh rather than waiting any longer on this seemingly never ending rebuild.

The challenge is the Pirates need to increase their revenue streams starting now, starting immediately, so that the organization has a strong financial base to keep whatever player they deem necessary to win in the future.

Remember when this organization was bleeding cash and made some big promises to the city back when PNC Park opened?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have done a downright awful job of keeping those promises to the city of Pittsburgh.  In fact, most of the men who made those promises are now enjoying life in the sun somewhere far away from Federal Street.  Right now, another team of men and women attempt to create a championship organization.  It’s obviously not an easy job and a portion of the fan base has worn thin on patience.

But we did get a glimpse this season of just how exciting Pittsburgh can be when the ball club is winning some games.  The scary part of that scenario is that it resembles The Nightmare Before Christmas in that, the organization saw something it had never encountered.  The reaction to it was a failure in terms of wins and losses during a monumental second half collapse.  Some say the organization appeared fractured on what moves to make at the All-Star break.

So if the bottom line to the Pirates becoming cool—becoming a winner, is money, then who is responsible for creating the revenue?

Who will generate enough revenue that allows the Pirates to have the ability to turn over a roster that has struggled mightily to compete for 19 years?

An increase in revenue will allow the team to invest in draft and development which is the only possible way they can compete in the Union of Socialist Baseball League/Major League Baseball.  An increase in revenue will allow for higher player salaries, nicer transportation for game travel, better scouts and better benefits for those scouts, upgrades to both the home and vistors clubhouse at PNC Park, securing advance scouts, and fill-in your favorite thing the Bucs need to gain respectability.

We have to believe that one source of revenue for the Pirates will be decreasing over the next few years.  That source is obviously the luxury tax payments made by big market teams to the smaller markets.  The welfare checks of baseball if you will.

It’s frightening to imagine what would happen if luxury payments to Bob Nutting were to slowly disappear.  Would it mean he would have to sell?  Or would it mean the payroll would just be whacked?  Could new invenstors be sought?

Whatever happens in that situation, the only thing that matters to us is that the team increases revenues.  If you want to see the Pirates put a winner on the diamond, we think you should feel this way as well.  But where will the Pirates get more revenue?

The only way possible, the organization needs to work for it.

One reason the Pirates need to focus on revenue is the Pirates schedule in 2012 is awful.   It might be awful again in 2013.  Those things aren’t controllable.  But we would say all things being equal, it’s going to be challenging to meet the 2011 attendance numbers for the upcoming season.

The answer to respectability for the Pirates is increasing revenue by creative marketing.  We think it’s the only real solution.  Sure, the Pirates could get bounce back career years from their 25-man roster in 2012 and shock the city.  We would love that, but is that type of success sustainable?  We would argue that it isn’t.

Creative marketing in ticket sales is one way for the Pirates to grow top line revenue.  In 2012 the team has finally taken measures which will increase their ticket revenue.

Corporate sponsorship is another way for the Bucs to grow.  With several industries in Pennsylvania growing while other states struggle, there are opportunities right now for sponsorship to thrive.  Companies are moving into the region who should obviously be targets, especially within the Marcellus.

(Random tangent here:  We found it strange that the Bucs and IC Light couldn’t work out a deal for Piratefest.  IC Light signed a deal this season to sponsor three of the biggest dates on the Bucs schedule.  If I’m with IC Light, I would have been standing at the top of the escalators letting everyone know about their new IC Light Amber.  Wait, maybe bloggers could buy that space next year?)

Nevertheless, opportunities abound in the corporate sponsorship arena.  As the losing has piled up over the past nineteen years, corporate sponsors have vanished.  Take a look at the outfield wall at PNC Park.  Several of those companies haven’t been replaced by the Pirates.  Yet the same companies have taken their marketing dollars that were spent at PNC Park and made big or for some companies, even bigger footprints across the street with the Steelers and further downtown with the Pensguins.

Many of the new opportunities should come from companies that are moving or have recently moved into the region.  If you think the economy is too bad to close sponsorship deals, you really need to read the book, nearly all of the authors success came in poor economic times.

But this must be said…..none of this will be easy for the Bucs to do.  Creating something great never is.   A million people will say why it won’t happen.  But the glimpse of success that the Pirates had this past season provides a window of opportunity.  The next few months seem crucial.  Let’s trust the Bucs can make it happen.  All it really takes is a few good ideas.  A few good,…. outrageous ideas.

Briefly, here are some quick thoughts we had:

*The Pirates increased sales last year.  I wonder if they increased their number of sales people this year by ten percent how much sales would increase?  Sound nuts?  Look at that 2012 schedule again.  A major army of well trained sales people will need to roll up their sleeves in order to fill up PNC Park.

The Bucs will need some bounce back performances on the diamond from players like Alvarez, Bedard, and Barmes, but even more importanty the Pirates sales effort will need to have a career year.

*I wonder if someone took the time to write a book for the sports industry about how amazing last season was for the Pirates sales and marketing staff?  These people are having success amidst the longest losing streak in the history of sports.  People would read that book.  Professors would talk about that book.  I would be willing to bet college Sport Management students would read that book.

It surely would capture the interest of the brightest minds in colleges around the country.  The same young people who desperately want to break into the world of sport.

If the best baseball players in the world don’t want to come to play in Pittsburgh right now, why not attract the brightest young minds that want to break into the business of sport?  If the team can eventually attract the best baseball talent and become a hotbed for talented ‘baseball people’ the revenue the Pirates generate will increase exponentially.


In closing, the book was great and it gave us many ideas to use where at our workplace.  If you like sports business, we recommend it for you as it could help you think along those lines.  It was out there too, like when Spoelstra held a brainstorming session that helped the launch the very first satellite radio network with the Portland Trail Blazers.  Yeh, Portland.  Now that’s a small market.

Here is my bottom line:  If the Pirates gets caught up in increasing revenues, the wins will surely follow.  All it takes is a few good, outrageous ideas.  However, the real key is that all of these things have been done.  The Bucs might want to do something that nobody inside the world of sport, or baseball more specifically is doing.  Savvy business owners say, if it’s been on CNN, and published in major magazines, or on Amazon in this case, the trend has passed.

I trust the Pirates can find a niche to grow revenue.  The Bucs desperately need it.  Because without those new sources of revenue, well…it’s hard to earn respect.