Message to new Pitt athletic director: Sell, sell, sell

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — New Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke has a complex job, but a simple mission: Sell tickets.

She will take on the challenge that has baffled so many of her predecessors. She needs to get people to fill Heinz Field for Pitt games the way they do for Steelers games.

Good luck with that.

Even in its best years, the Pitt football program has been a distant second in interest among football fans.

If that task isn’t big enough, there’s another job as well. Pitt needs to get people back in the Peterson Events Center for basketball games. The days of automatic sellouts are long gone. Some fans became disenfranchised when the Panthers lost the familiar rivalries of the old Big East. Others have been turned off by basketball’s turn toward mediocrity over the past couple of seasons.

Pitt is like a lot of places these days in that the AD job is mostly about marketing and fund raising.

The new AD will have to get up speed on the Pittsburgh market, then get to work.

What was that?

Root Sports had an interesting idea for Tuesday’s Pirates exhibition game against Tampa Bay.

They assigned the three color analysts — Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner — to work together while play-by-play announcers Greg Brown and Joe Block teamed on radio.

Exhibition games are meaningless, and the audience for weekday afternoon games is pretty much limited to slackers and deadbeats (Hi!).

The concept was good. The analysts are all former major leaguers and never work together. It was interesting to hear them discuss the game, the first time those conversations have been held outside a bar.

But for some reason someone thought it would be funny to present the ex-players vs. non-players split as some sort of feud. There were juvenile insults and constant shots of the respective booths engaging in nonsense.

They took a perfectly fine idea and ruined it with typical Root foolishness.

Rocker rolls

Chuck Berry, who died last week at 90, was a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, a true original who was hugely influential. He also had the reputation for being difficult, something the Pirates discovered in 1986.

They were pushing hard to top one million in season attendance and needed a big crowd for the last home game. Among the many perks offered was a post-game oldies show with Chuck Berry and the Four Tops.

Unfortunately, the game went extra innings, and Berry wasn’t interested in sticking around. He was reelin’ and rockin’ down the highway when he couldn’t go on stage at 5 p.m. as his contract specified.

Poor Greg Brown — then the team’s public address announcer — was forced to go on stage and say (in a quiet voice) that Chuck Berry wouldn’t be able to perform but (in a louder voice), “Let’s welcome back the Four Tops!”

The Four Tops had enough hits to do a second set, so they were both opening act and headliner after Berry vamoosed.

Bottom line: The Pirates topped a million, the Four Tops pinch hit for Chuck Berry, and the lawyers sorted out everything after that.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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