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Apathy Has Set In With Pirates, But Can Be Reversed

It’s hard to tell if this picture is from an off-day or during a game.

I haven’t seen the City of Pittsburgh this demoralized about the state of the Pirates since the tail end of the 2010 season. That was when the Pirates were on their way to a 57-105 record and finally ended their bold experiment of letting a Westworld android, model name of “John Russell”, manage the team for 3 seasons.

It’s hard to get a pulse on the state of Pirate fans if you live in Florida, but since I live here in Pittsburgh my day job affords me the chance to interact with a wide variety of people in different socioeconomic circles. Whether it’s construction workers, electricians, and plumbers telling me they’re done watching the Pirates, thus showing the downfall of the Pirates’ ratings on AT&T Sportsnet, or the lawyers, principals of engineering firms, and doctors saying their firms are not renewing season tickets, thus stripping away part of the season ticket renewal backbone at the core of Pirate attendance, the City of Pittsburgh is fed up.

Neighbors in my neighborhood either didn’t take their kids to any games this year or to maybe only one or two. This is representative of the other time demands that occupy families nowadays — if you’re not getting good return on your entertainment dollars, you’re going to look elsewhere. It’s not that hard of a concept.

So if both the local TV ratings and season ticket numbers at PNC Park are eroding quicker than the Jersey shoreline, what are the Pirates to do?

What they should do is have owner Bob Nutting, flanked by President Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington, hold a press conference stating that he’s concerned about the direction of the franchise and pledge to increase the 2018 team payroll to a number befitting their revenues. If you presume that 2017 revenues, due to lower attendance figures, may drop to $255M (an estimated $10M loss in revenue from 2016), then payroll should be between $115M and $127.5M (45 to 50% of revenue).

As of now, the Pirates have $61M of payroll commitments to 9 players (presuming Kang is here next year; if not, that drops to $58M and 8 players). Coupled with a very rough back-of-the-envelope $20M in arbitration to 4 players, that gives them a potential of $81M to 13 players right off the hop, not accounting for trades.

Although raising the payroll, at a minimum, by $20M over 2017’s doesn’t sound like a lot, that enables the Pirates to have $34M to make moves, instead of $14M if they were to freeze payroll around $95M again. The first thing it would enable the Pirates to do is bring back and keep Andrew McCutchen on his option, for a net increase of $13.5M over his $1M buyout. The remaining $21M or so could go a long way to fortifying the bench and bullpen. I will beat this horse under the flesh is flayed off — the bones of a 2018 playoff team are here. There’s talent all through the lineup but it needs support players and better off-the-field offseason decisions by players.

The Pirates need to gin up enthusiasm for this franchise again, as the goodwill generated from the 2013-15 playoff teams has vaporized into the nascent autumn air. With the next AT&T Sportsnet TV contract looming and fans disguising themselves as blue seats at PNC Park, this can get very ugly financially very quickly.

Unfortunately, the Pirates are extremely tone-deaf when it comes to their fans and the texture of the situations that surround them. Bob Nutting is a slave to the bottom line and will see falling revenues and do the most Occam’s Razor thing he knows — cut payroll. It’s counterintuitive to spend more money when revenues are dropping, but sometimes you have to spend money to make money. The business product is the 25-man roster that occupies PNC Park. The product needs a new update and people will buy into it again.

I fear that the Pirates’ ownership is willing to play the fiddle while PNC Park metaphorically burns. I can’t understand why Clint Hurdle would want to re-up for 4 more years of frustration unless he got certain spending assurances, but I’m bracing for an offseason of tearing down instead of building on to the skeleton.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

9 Comments on Apathy Has Set In With Pirates, But Can Be Reversed

  1. Apathy is correct. I have been a season-ticket holder for 25 years, so I have weathered many a storm. But this year is different. I farm out a lot of my tickets, but as you mentioned, I took my kids to only 2-3 games a my wife even asked if we can cut the cable because watching Pirates games just doesn’t happen much any more. If I am apathetic, I can only imagine the state of mind of a bandwagon fan. There needs to be a drastic shift or the death-spiral will begin. So…happy weekend!

    • Kevin Creagh // September 22, 2017 at 1:28 PM //

      Bingo. You’re the exact type of fan I was referencing. If you’ve tuned out, imagine the “new” fans.

  2. Marilyn Bartolacci // September 22, 2017 at 12:46 PM //

    The players and top management still get paid. It’s the little guy, the PNC Park workers who are hurting! Ushers, security, ticket takers at the gate, and cleaning crew who have had their hours cut. Add in the waiters and waitresses in the restaurants on the North Shore …

  3. richard steward // September 22, 2017 at 2:14 PM //

    Went too two games. Record 1-1. Saw very lackluster play from several key players. Was impressed with Bell, Osuna, Diaz. Cutch looked old and tired and mis-played a ball in center field both nights. Need new blood, new money and new attitude.

  4. Mike Easler // September 24, 2017 at 2:30 PM //

    Couldn’t agree more about wanting to see the payroll increased for 2018, nearly everything went wrong in 2017. The handwriting was on the wall when the Pirates lost Kang for the whole season, and Marte for 81 games.

  5. paul maggio // September 25, 2017 at 4:18 PM //

    They need to get rid of the Notch and move the fence in 5 ft. The Bucs have plenty of warning track power and a reduction of 5 ft.would mean a lot. It’s then up to the pitchers to keep the ball down against opposing players. They could put in a walk of fame behind the wall.

  6. mark delsignore // October 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM //


    Missed the part of the article that was going to address “but can be reversed” sub topic.

    At least that was stated in the article title.

    • Kevin Creagh // October 19, 2017 at 3:01 PM //

      It’s right there in the middle — by raising payroll $20M (which is what I believe it is underfunded by) to a $115-$120M range. That will enable them to not only keep the team together, but augment it for one more run. That would make the fans energized that the Pirates were marginally committed to winning.

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