By Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
Tuesday afternoon marked Oct. 1, and for the first time in 21 years, the Pirates are still playing ball. For the first time in 21 years, people are flocking to the North Shore for a sporting event that isn’t football.
Economically speaking, businesses and hotels proximate to PNC Park are thriving. The Pirates saw a 43 percent increase in total regular season attendance in their own ballpark this year compared to the same numbers in 2009, when they finished 62-99, according to MLB.com.
Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, said the team’s success in 2013 generated $200 million for the local economy from ticket buyers.
“The Pirates worked with us to really do a study on what the spending was for all the Pirates games,” Davis said. “They gave us data for most of their home games, and we were able to extrapolate the last couple.”
Davis said the $200 million figure considers ticket sales in large part, but also includes food and beverage, out of town attendance, overnight stay[s] with a hotel, parking, souvenirs and other goods that fans and visitors purchase and consume on a typical game day.
Davis added that a given Pirates home game generated an average of $2.5 million per game in the regular season, a number he estimates will only increase if the Pirates can advance in the postseason. The postseason features higher ticket prices, brand new playoff merchandise and more visitors from out of town traveling to western Pennsylvania to experience the postseason.
In addition to a spike in ticket sales and other sources of revenue that accompany competitive baseball at PNC Park, businesses near the stadium have benefited tremendously.
“It’s certainly our hotels and restaurants have realized an increase in business,” Davis said. “The Pirates bring in about 19 percent of their business from outside 100 miles of the city, so all those people need to eat, sleep and be entertained.”
Matthew May, a supervisor at Jerome Bettis Grill 36, said the restaurant has been busier this September than past years because of the competitive product the Pirates have fielded this year. He said people who couldn’t secure tickets to Tuesday night’s game still wanted to experience the atmosphere in the North Shore.
“We’ve had a lot more people coming in for the end of the season and for the game yesterday. It was absolute mayhem here [last night],” he said. “It was a lot of fun. It was busier than a home Steelers game. [They were] throwing napkins in the bar, really wild. There was black and yellow in here all over.”
It’s difficult to project the exact economic benefit this recent trend of competitive baseball will generate because playoff baseball is so unprecedented in Pittsburgh, but businesses in the North Shore surely see higher volumes of people cycling through their doors on nights when the Pirates have played this year.
Assistant professor of economics Matt Ryan said the levels of economic benefit to the North Shore and the city of Pittsburgh as a whole differ when the Pirates are in town, because on a given night when the Pirates are playing, consumer patterns do not necessarily change – it’s the locations in which they spend their money that do change. So people who flocked to the North Shore on Tuesday night spent their money in businesses and restaurants proximate to PNC Park at the cost of establishments in other parts of the city who likely saw less volume. Encouraging for business in the North Shore but economically irrelevant for Pittsburgh’s economy as a whole, because the amount of money spent in the city likely did not vary drastically. Rather the concentration of revenue businesses realized shifted from various parts of the city to a highly concentrated radius around the ballpark.
Economics aside, Craig Davis said the increased attention and publicity the city will receive from the Pirates’ success is an exciting trend. And heightened publicity for Pittsburgh via the spotlight that a national broadcast of a playoff game will provide unseen benefits moving forward.
“We sell the city, and we sell the city to people outside the city. We’re trying to get people to come in and stay overnight. To have the buzz from the Pirates to bring people in is great for the city,” Davis said. ”This is a gift, because it hasn’t been planned. It’s brand new money, and that’s the best kind of money.”