The Pittsburgh Pirates announced recently that annual baseball carnival, PiratesFest, is set for Saturday, December 9, 2017 in a new venue – PNC Park.
The moment the Pittsburgh Pirates announced the date and location of PiratesFest 2017, the collective groan from social media was audible. Everyone, it seemed was in an uproar, slinging accusations of this move being motivated by a “cheap” front office that wants to put the squeeze on everyone and not invest it back into players, blah blah blah.
I don’t buy it.
Call me a Pirates apologist all you want. But I think the changes the team is making to PiratesFest this year are awesome and well-thought out.
First off, let’s talk timing. For the “Cheap Nutting” folks out there, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the event has taken place for several years, is hosting events both the weekends of December 2-3 and December 9-10. We don’t know how much staffing, space, etc. these events and PiratesFest need, so perhaps moving it to PNC was the Pirates’ only option, save booking it somewhere they are less familiar.
Why not have it on December 16-17? That’s too close to the holidays. That is the maximum overload weekend for shopping, family-visiting, Christmas parties, children’s school programs, etc. and attendance would likely be impacted. A lot of people do their holiday shopping at the event. That close to Christmas, you’re cutting it close for finding a replacement gift if that baseball card you’re looking for isn’t available or the player you want to sign a certain photo cancels last minute. So the weekend of 12/9 it needed to be.
Speaking of players, a vast majority of the guys who make appearances at PiratesFest live elsewhere. Taking a weekend in early December is less of a sacrifice for them, considering that the winter holidays are some of the only they get to spend with family all year. And, do we even need to talk about what a nightmare the airports are at that time of year?
So, simply put, having it at PNC Park – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, by the way – makes the most sense from a timing perspective.
Many noted that PiratesFest has also been reduced from a two-day event to a one day extravaganza. That’s actually a bit of a misdirect. What the Pirates are really doing is reducing the FREE carnival events (which include free player autographs for kids), and the season ticket holder special sessions (which begin prior to the general public events) to one day and separating that from the general autograph sessions, which will also be one day, for which tickets must be bought in advance.
General autograph sessions will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, December 8, 2017 at the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club. And wow is that a no-brainer. Sure, people might miss being able to wander the carnival before they have to get in line for their autograph session, but this move will greatly cut down on confusion (“Oh, you mean I need a ticket to get Trevor Williams’ autograph? Where do I buy it? Why did my kid get Chris Stewart’s for free over there?”) and streamline all of the events. And hey, if they have the restaurant and bar open and serving during this timeframe, it could sure make waiting two hours for that selfie with Josh Bell or Andrew McCutchen much more enjoyable.
Last year the free carnival event wasn’t overly crowded at any point. In some cases, attendance at booths and even player signing opportunities was light. By holding it on one day, instead of over a weekend, the Pirates are maximizing the effectiveness of their event. And given the venue change, they know they can handle the capacity.
Location, Location, Location
I think that what a lot of people are also missing about this change is the opportunity to experience PNC in a different way. Q and A sessions, which were held on a stage in one end of the convention center, will take place in the press conference room at PNC Park. How cool is that?! Sure, you get to see it if you go on a tour, but rare is the chance to take a seat in there and fire off questions like real, legit members of sports media. It’s also a space designed for this type of event, so acoustics are better than in a giant event hall, the PA system should be more reliable and the set up will enable attendees to be closer to Pirates representatives participating in the session.
The games and booths that we all know and love from PiratesFest will be held on the Pittsburgh Baseball Club level – another area you may not see as a fan unless you buy a ticket to that area. It’s a beautiful space with amazing views of the ballpark that frankly, we don’t always get in December. I know this is hard to believe, but some people attending PiratesFest have never been to a game at PNC. What a unique, free chance for them to see an MLB ballpark.
Sure they have some games planned for the Riverwalk. By spreading things out some, the Pirates are maximizing the use of space. And if it’s the weather you’re complaining about, Columbus had no shortage of people lined up to play outdoor games in freezing temps during the NHL All Star Game in 2016. If you can’t stand the cold, stay inside.
So Let’s Talk Money
To take the proverbial bull-by-the-horns here, yes, having PiratesFest at PNC park will likely save the team money. I’m not certain what type of deal they’ve had with the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in the past, but usually, staging an event like PiratesFest isn’t cheap. Aside from overall rental of the space, there are a million tiny costs here and there that lay-people don’t think about – like pipe and drape, electrical for booths, PA systems, catering, drayage, staffing, wifi, cleaning, booth construction (which sometimes can only be done by their workers and you play their salary), etc. Convention centers make their money doing this and there are a lot of ways to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of a company.
It also cuts down the need for branding and signage – the convention center was converted into a mini Pittsburgh Pirates playground for two days each December. That required a lot of black and gold and Pirates “Ps” to make it feel like it was the Pirates’ place. It goes without saying that PNC Park is about as Pirates-branded as it comes. That saves money and environmental impact as well. There’s always an opportunity to purchase a lot of Pirates gear at PiratesFest. This year, instead of transporting endless amounts of t-shirts and jerseys and other paraphernalia a mile across town, they need only staff and unlock the doors to the Majestic Clubhouse stores. Speaking of staff, the Pirates can use more of their own event staff, which means less need for training and money going to folks employed by PNC.
But does that savings really translate into a chance to pick up Jake Arrieta for 2018? Please.
Change Isn’t Easy
It is important to remember how fortunate Pirates fans are to have this great opportunity to interact with the team in the offseason – not every team does an event like this. But we are creatures of habit and it’s likely some people are upset by the changes to PiratesFest simply because it will be different than what we are used to. But that doesn’t make these changes bad. It makes this an exciting opportunity for a new and fun way to celebrate our Buccos.
Image courtesy the Pittsburgh Pirates