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January 23, 2014

Pederson notes: Tickets, 2014 schedule and more

Filling Heinz Field is always a primary goal for Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson, so he plans to enter the Panthers' second football season in the ACC with a few new ticket initiatives.

The biggest change is the inclusion of "mini-packages." As a shift from the all-or-nothing approach as Pitt has used in the past, when fans could either buy a full-season ticket package or single-game tickets when those went on sale, fans can now purchase three-game mini-plans.

The mini-plans allow a fan to choose any three games from the home schedule, with pricing dependent on which games the fan chooses.

"We found that a lot of people wanted to be part of this and participate but, in some cases, just didn't feel like they could commit to a full season-ticket package," Pederson said during a conference call Wednesday. "So we created some mini-plans that will allow them to participate in a different way."

"Getting these different types of ticket opportunities to fans really kind of opens the spectrum of who we can target," said former Pitt fullback and current Assistant Athletic Director for Ticket Sales and Operations Justin Acierno on Wednesday. Our goal, really, has always been to fill Heinz Field with Panther fans in blue and gold, and having these additional ticket opportunities for fans that may not be able to commit to a full season-ticket package - which is what we were hearing in those focus groups - really gives us an opportunity to maximize those individuals."

In another change, mini-plans and single-game tickets are available now, concurrent with full-season ticket packages. In the past, Pitt delayed sales of single-game tickets until the end of August.

Tickets in the mini-plans and single-game tickets will be in "pockets" throughout the stadium, Acierno said, while "the best tickets" will still be reserved for full-season ticket packages.

Pederson and Acierno said the idea for the mini-plans was born of feedback from fans, citing focus groups and surveying.

The new schedule

Pitt's 2014 schedule was announced on Wednesday, and the slate features two nationally-televised games. The Panthers will play at Boston College on Friday, Sept. 5, in the second week of the season and then host Virginia Tech on Thursday, Oct. 16. The Boston College game will be on ESPN or ESPN2, and the Virginia Tech game is set for ESPN.

Pederson said more night games are possible, but that will depend on the preferences of television networks.

"It's the same thing we said when we announced the schedule last year, and it's one of the great things about being in the ACC: every game on the schedule is appealing and everybody you're playing is a great school and they all have special history," Pederson said. "So every single one of these games is great for us and we like the home schedule; we think it's another exciting home schedule."

Annual finale?

Pitt is scheduled to close the regular season with a trip to Miami on Nov. 29. The Panthers and Hurricanes also finished 2013 with a matchup at Heinz Field, and it looks like the ACC may attempt to position Pitt and Miami for annual season-ending meetings.

For his part, Pederson would welcome such a setup.

"Last year when this game was put on the schedule for that date, we were hopeful it would be the beginning of an annual game with them," he said. "We're glad that we're doing it again this year and I'm hopeful that we'll continue to do that, but I guess we'll have to see as it plays out whether that becomes the case or not. From our standpoint, I think it's an exciting way to close out every regular season if we can do it. So we're hopeful that that might work out as we go forward here. And I think Miami is of the same mindset at this point as well."

Alignment matters

The ACC has reportedly considered realigning the conference's divisions and is evaluating the schedule format, in part because the current arrangement is such that most cross-division opponents won't see each other for several years at a time.

Pederson said his focus is on other conference scheduling matters.

"At this point I like what we're doing," he said. "I think the divisions make sense and I like the divisions. I think, in general, I've been a proponent of more conference games rather than less.

"Initially, when we started this, we started with the idea that we were going to play nine conference games, and then some logistical reasons early on caused us to stay at eight, but I hope we can eventually move to nine conference games. The more ACC teams, the better, as far as we're concerned, in terms of playing.

"But I like our division, I like our crossover opponent, I think that's good at this point. So we feel good about where we are."

The first year

The Pitt football team went 3-5 in its first run through the ACC schedule, but there were plenty of positives from the inaugural year in the new conference. The ACC produced the football national champion, and the Pitt men's basketball team is enjoying quite a bit of success in the conference.

The football team needs to do better in Year Two, but Pederson thinks there's a lot to like about the move to the ACC so far.

"We're really pleased with it," he said. "We were so excited leading into joining the ACC and what we felt like it would bring to our program, and I think it has even exceeded our expectations. We like the places we're going, we like the teams we're playing, we like the profile of the games, we like the profile of the institutions in the conference, and I think, really, over and over again, the ACC has continued to step up and do some really special things."

Scheduling conflict

Pitt has had its 2014 opener against Delaware at Heinz Field scheduled for a number of years, and Pederson expected that game to be a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Pittsburgh Pirates play that day as well, but no conflicts were expected since the Pirates' game was scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

Then the Pirates were presented with an opportunity to play on national television if the game was moved to 4:05. They took that opportunity and, in doing so, created a considerable conflict with the Pitt game, since parking on the North Shore is at a premium, particularly in the lots shared by Heinz Field and PNC Park.

Pederson said he received a call from Pirates president Frank Coonelly about the change in game time, but no resolution has been reached yet.

"The reality is that there's really no time that we can play that's going to not impact a 4:05 game," Pederson said. "So we're in discussions how to work that out, but here's just no way, short of us playing at an unreasonable time earlier in the morning, that we can accommodate Pittsburgh sports fans. It's our home-opener and I know that they understand that, but it's a unique situation and we're going to have to figure out how to resolve it. But we don't have a solution at this point yet."

Among the possible solutions would be changing the day of the Pitt game, but that's not a good option for a number of reasons. Pitt has been steadfast in not playing home games on Friday night so as to avoid any conflict with high school football, and moving the game to Sunday is not an option since the Panthers' next game is on Friday, Sept. 5; Pitt was already set to operate on a short week, and playing on Sunday would only exacerbate the situation.

That leaves only an adjusted start time as a viable option. A 1 p.m. kickoff isn't likely to be the final decision, due to the traffic crunch that would create, but Pederson said he doesn't intend to allow much wiggle room on Pitt's part.

"Under no circumstances would we kick before noon. That's not fair to our fans. We would never do that. So we're going to try to work things out. But we'd never kick before 12-noon."

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