For the final homestand of the season, the Pirates pulled out all the stops to drive ticket sales. Free t-shirts on Friday. Zambelli fireworks on Saturday. Kids Day and player meet-and-greets on Sunday. $10 tickets all weekend. And they even called up unicorn prospect Oneil Cruz.
And it kinda worked, at least relative to the rest of the season: The Pirates sold 49,503 tickets for the 3-game series against the Reds, including 22,910 on Saturday.
But that was just lipstick on a buccaneer, because overall season attendance was poor.
The team ends the 101-loss 2021 campaign with total ticket sales of 859,498, which is an average of 10,611 per game. Actual attendance was some factor lower than that, as evidenced by scenes such as this:
Can’t be even 500 people here right now. No chance. And this is why I keep writing that there can’t be a sequel to this. Real progress has to come in 2022. This is Pittsburgh, not Altoona or Greensboro or Bradenton. pic.twitter.com/TeTW7L1YQ4
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) September 8, 2021
Not counting the shortened 2020 season, that would be the lowest total attendance for the Pirates since 1985.
Without question, the pandemic has had a significant impact on attendance across baseball. Paying fans have dropped a whopping 34% from 2019, going from 28,204 per game to 18,652.
The drop in fans at PNC Park has largely correlated with the drop seen around baseball. The Pirates ranked 25th in average attendance this year after finishing 26th in 2019 and 28th in 2018.
The elephant in the room with those rankings is that the Pirates have been a downright bad team for several years. They finished with the fourth pick in the 2022 draft after earning the first pick in the 2021 draft and the seventh pick in 2020. Across the last 3 seasons, they have a winning percentage of just .388.
While the correlation is less than you might expect, the fact remains that winning teams draw more fans to the ballpark. (The fireworks and Cruz’s debut on Saturday indicates that some excitement at the ballpark may also help.) And when it comes to putting a winning team on the field, the buck stops with owner Bob Nutting, who has led the franchise since 2007.
For the last three years, the position of Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service has been held by Jim Popovich, who has overseen season tickets, group sales and individual ticket sales, service and operations.
A few weeks ago, the Pirates posted Popovich’s job on their career page. Shortly thereafter, Popovich was removed from the staff directory.
Popovich has local roots, as a graduate of Robert Morris University. According to LinkedIn, he joined the Pirates in 2010 and was promoted three times, the last of which was to Vice President before the 2019 season. Popovich was reporting to David Burke, a seasoned sports revenue veteran who joined the club last December as Executive Vice President, Sales & Business Development.
Popovich has now stepped aside as part of President Travis Williams’ remake of the front office. The next ticket VP will have to hope that the pandemic and the team’s performance on the field — both outside of his/her control — cooperate. Perhaps he/she can lobby for more fireworks nights.
OCT. 8 UPDATE: Popovich has updated his LinkedIn profile to show that he is now the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for PR3, which is “the engine behind Pittsburgh’s favorite races and runs, including the Pittsburgh Marathon.” The overall timing indicates that Popovich may have left the Pirates on his own accord.
Quick side note, for those who enjoy baseball analytics: There is interesting research indicating that increased attendance can result in increased winning. The impact is small, of course, but the theory is that larger crowds cheering for the home team can result in better play by the home team. This is clearly not working in the Pirates favor this season.
If the original job posting has been taken down, here is the full text:
Vice President, Ticket Sales & Service
We are an equal employment opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law.
The Pirates Why
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a storied franchise in Major League Baseball who are reinventing themselves on every level. Boldly and relentlessly pursuing excellence by:
- purposefully developing a player and people-centered culture;
- deeply connecting with our fans, partners, and colleagues;
- passionately creating lifetime memories for generations of families and friends; and
- meaningfully impacting our communities and the game of baseball.
At the Pirates, we believe in the power of a diverse workforce and strive to create an inclusive culture centered in Passion, Innovation, Respect, Accountability, Teamwork, Empathy, and Service.
The Vice President, Ticket Sales & Service is responsible for developing and leading the top ticket sales/service/retention team in sports and entertainment. Identifies, recruits, hires, coaches, and develops leaders. Holds a strong belief in the process leading to results, and a commitment to building a culture that revolves around preparation, hard work, recognition, and daily personal and professional development. Works successfully with other business units (partnership, marketing, stadium operations, community relations, concessions, retail, etc.). Possesses strong communication skills. The Vice President, Ticket Sales & Service oversees strategies directly impacting the overall growth of the Pirates ticket sales operation including but not limited to: season, partial, group, individual ticket sales/service/retention; ticket and box office operations; sales/service/retention programming; pricing strategy; knowledge and awareness of industry best practices while also exploring ways to innovate and upgrade our business practices.
- Oversee and manage all Ticket Sales and Services personnel and activities, as they relate to Ticket Sales and Service’s responsibilities; Lead performance management, training, mentoring, discipline and hiring activities.
- Create, develop and implement departmental strategies, goals, objectives, short and long-term planning for Ticket Sales and Service.
- Create, supervise, and implement sales/service training and development curriculum for Ticket Sales and Service.
- Monitor and manage all seating inventory to maximize attendance and revenue.
- Create, implement, and manage new revenue streams by analyzing current inventory and by benchmarking best practices from around professional sports.
- Hire, supervise and coach sales/service staff to maximize ticket sales and revenue; determine training needs and coordinate delivery of training.
- Develop and manage Ticket Sales and Service departmental budget(s).
- Create and develop innovative sales contests and incentives that drive and keep staffs motivated to sell and retain at high levels.
- Create, implement, and monitor commission and bonus structures for all departments within Ticket Sales & Service that emphasize hitting and/or exceeding goals; Use the commission structure to keep staff focused on their goals and the departmental goals.
- Create & produce comprehensive daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual sales reports.
- Recommend to Senior Management all ticket pricing strategies and renewal timing and tactic; Ensure that these strategies maximize revenue and ticket sales opportunities.
- Work with the Marketing Team to create concepts for all ticket sales and service collateral materials.
- Ensure all Ticket Office policies and procedures are adhered to, including handling of comp tickets, employee ticket requests, ticket printing, etc.
- Build and manage systems and structure whereby season ticket member retention and satisfaction exceeds expectations and drives them to renewal.
- Continue to develop, enhance, grow Season Ticket Holder Membership Platform.
- Work with MLBAM and Tickets.com on all ticketing initiatives.
- All other duties as assigned by the Executive Vice President, Sales & Business Development.
- Work as part of a collaborative team of peers on all sales and marketing strategies and execution.
- Collaborate & Communicate with all areas of the Pirates front office.
- Ensure all fiscal controls are being followed properly.
- Timely and accurate reporting, and requesting, of commission and bonus payments for staff.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Sports Management or equivalent.
- Minimum of 5 years sports managerial experience.
- Minimum of 10 years of sports industry-related sales experience.
- Knowledge of Microsoft Office Applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access).
- Experience in Managing and/or Selling Premium Seating (suites and club seats).
- Knowledge/experience working with a CRM system.
- Master’s Degree in Business or Sports Administration.
- Knowledge/Experience working with ProVenue Ticketing System.