Officially, the Pittsburgh Steelers have sold out every home game for the past 18,000 years. Visually, they clearly haven’t, or at least, they haven’t been able to get all of their ticket holders to actually show up to the stadium on Sunday, or to get their tickets into the hands of those who would.
According to a recent article by Gene Collier for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers’ average attendance during their eight home games this season was now down below 63,000. The stadium now accommodates over 68,400 fans, so you have at least 5000 individuals not showing up in any given week. In fact, they reportedly have only filled the stadium just once since expanding their seating, that being the 2017 game against the New England Patriots, during their 13-3 run.
Yet their Divisional Round postseason game that season against the Jacksonville Jaguars still featured nearly 4000 empty seats. That’s a tough one to explain. Imagine not finding enough people willing to attend a Steelers postseason game.
That is the reality. Yet team president Art Rooney II was not bemoaning the downturn in attendance for the 2019 season, he said, citing league-wide trends in that regard. “We’re not the only ones experiencing that”, Collier quotes him as saying. “We’re similar to other markets, particularly in the northern climates, where fans are more sensitive to night games and more with cold weather”.
He notes that five of the six worst-attended games over the past two seasons have all been night games. Temperatures are often quite low in western Pennsylvania at night during football season, occasionally with inclement weather, to boot. Yet years ago, this would still seem unimaginable.
“It definitely matters. You want your building full or as full as you can get it”, Rooney allowed about 2019 attendance, “but I really wasn’t disappointed this year. When you take into account that we started out 0-3, we wound up losing our starting quarterback, and had two Monday night games and a December game flexed to a Sunday night, with all that, I really wasn’t all that disappointed”.
Or he is, but is choosing not to say it, because it doesn’t look good. Still, when you lose your starting quarterback and appear to be headed for a lost season, especially as a team that is a perennial contender, it really isn’t surprising to see attendance take a big hit.
Still, I think there is reason for optimism as far as attendance goes for the 2020 season. Provided that they actually get Ben Roethlisberger back at full force, this can be a really exciting team, both to watch and as a competitor.
With a defense that appears to have finally turned the corner and an offense with growing skill position players like Diontae Johnson and James Washington, and hopefully better health all around, there will be plenty of reason to take a seat inside of Heinz Field in 2020—even on a cold Pittsburgh night.