2020 was an unprecedented year in so many ways and that was no different for Major League Baseball. Not only was last season limited to just 60 games, but perhaps the most notable difference didn’t even take place on the field. What really stood out as different was that all 30 teams played their games without fans in attendance. Some teams used cardboard cutouts to “fill” the seats, and used fake crowd noise to try and give it a normal game-like atmosphere, but it just wasn’t the same.
It goes without saying that fans are a huge part of sports. While teams tried to artificially make it feel like their were people in the seats, it just wasn’t the same and fell way short of the real thing. Fans and the players have a unique relationship in that the players feed off of the fans’ energy and vice versa. The roar of the crowd in big moments and the raining of boos when something goes wrong was absent, and games felt more like exhibition contests instead of the real thing.
The Pirates joined the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball in welcoming their fans back to their stadium this year. For the Bucs, it started out with limited capacity at PNC Park before gradually loosening restrictions until the ballpark allowed for full capacity during the middle of the season. The problem for the Pirates? PNC Park often looked liked limited capacity and social distancing were in effect throughout the season.
On the year, Pittsburgh hosted 859,498 fans at PNC Park, an average of just over 10,500 per game. Both numbers ranked 25th in baseball and 14th out of 15 National League teams. Only the Orioles, Blue Jays (who split time between three stadiums), Rays A’s and Marlins had less.
This is in line with the rankings the last few years, as the Pirates have been near the bottom in attendance since 2017 and haven’t been in the top half attendance-wise since 2015, the last time Pittsburgh reached “Buctober.” The reason for this is obvious – winning – or lack there of. Fans have been growingly frustrated with the product on the field as the team has been mired in a rebuilding phase. Equally as responsible is the fans disdain for owner Bob Nutting and his spending habits over the years.
The solution? Win some ball games. From 2013-2015, going to see the Pirates play at PNC Park was the hottest ticket in the city. The fans rallied around the Pirates and the passion for the team was felt every night inside the stadium. We all saw what took place on Oct. 1, 2013 in the National League Wild Card game and how truly impactful the fans of Pittsburgh can have on a game.
Until the Pirates start winning again, expect more of the same regarding attendance. 2022 is shaping up to be another challenging season for the Bucs, and while it is great to see fans back in the seats again, expect a lot of those seats to remain unoccupied.