Season ticket and North Shore restaurant sales will both take hits this year, but sports fans still have hope for the fall.

Photo of PNC Park by Lauren Stauffer

By Mario Cosentino

During the Pirates’ pre-season training in early July, PNC Park was uncharacteristically quiet. Training typically takes place during the spring at the franchise’s training facility in Bradenton, Florida, after all, but an obvious absence of fans in PNC Park is likely to become a trend that will continue into the season.

Fans shouldn’t hold a grudge too long, though: Just a few months ago, the likelihood of them seeing any baseball games this year was very low.

Back in June, Major League Baseball (MLB) proposed a plan for a shortened season with realigned conferences to limit travel in an effort to help lower the risk of players getting exposed to COVID-19. A salary dispute between the league and its players, though, put the start of the season on hold. Even the league’s commissioner had doubts about the impending season.

Eager to play, the MLB and it’s players eventually reached an agreement, and on June 23, the MLB announced that there would be a 60-game season with its first games to be played the weekend of July 23. The Pirates played their first Spring Training game against the Cleveland Indians on July 18 at PNC Park; they lost 3-5.

Baseball in the ‘new normal’

What does a baseball season look like in the wake of a global pandemic? There will be frequent testing, for one. 

“The health and safety of players and employees will remain MLB’s foremost priorities in its return to play,” said the MLB in a statement regarding the start of the 2020 season.

Players and coaches are to be tested for COVID-19 on an every other day basis starting from the beginning of preseason until the postseason. A positive test will result in an immediate quarantine and that individual won’t be cleared to practice or play until they produce two negative tests. Additionally, temperature and symptom checks will be conducted twice a day.

Empty stadiums, empty bars

The grandstands of PNC Park won’t be the only empty seats in the North Shore this baseball season. Sports bars and other restaurants that rely heavily on the crowds from Pirates’ games for business are now empty in what is normally their most lucrative time of year.

Mike Sukitch, owner of the North Shore Tavern and Mike’s Beer Bar, both located on Federal Street across from PNC Park, has experienced this first hand.

“[My] business is at a location that, in essence, makes the majority of its profits in a given year during the baseball season,” said Sukitch.

Without the traffic of 81 home games, Sukitch now relies on local businesses and weekend traffic for customers. This summer has already proven to be a challenge for Northside businesses after the cancellation of both the Deutschtown Music Festival and the city’s Fourth of July fireworks, which have historically brought people to the Northside. 

Sukitch has already closed the North Shore Tavern temporarily, and is looking toward next April in hopes that fans will be allowed back in the stands.

“As a business, I’m more or less planning for next baseball season,” he said.

Fans flocking to Heinz Field

Business owners like Sukitch, however, might get a break sooner than expected.

Though the NFL’s preseason games will be played without fans, one way or another, the Pittsburgh Steelers plan on having fans in the stands this upcoming football season: Home ticket sales are already underway. Just half of the normal number of seats are open for fans this year, and tickets are expected to go quickly.

“We are being proactive with these limited amount [sic] of tickets as we are preparing for possible social distancing scenarios at Heinz Field this year,” said Steelers’ Director of Communications Burt Lauten in a statement on Twitter.

A ticket won’t be the only thing needed to get into a Steelers game this year, though. Assuming the NFL and the Steelers go through with their plan to allow fans at the games, masks will be a requirement. 

Specific rules and guidelines for the football season, which tentatively begins on Sept. 10, have not yet been released, but for sports fans, this is the closest to good news that they’ve had since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a year without March Madness and the Tokyo Summer Olympics, conditions might be starting to look up for sports fans.

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