Pitt-Penn State expected to set Pittsburgh sporting event attendance record


Pitt defensive back David Sumner smashes into a Penn State ball carrier in the 1992 game. Pitt News file photo.

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

Saturday’s game at Heinz Field between the Pitt Panthers and the Penn State Nittany Lions is set to be the all-time most attended sporting event in the city of Pittsburgh, according to Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes.

Pitt has already set a new school record for season ticket sales with 55,630 tickets sold for the 2016-17 season, but the Keystone Classic showdown with Penn State is expected to draw the largest crowd in Heinz Field history, bringing in nearly 70,000 fans.

Heinz Field’s capacity is listed at 68,400, and Pitt has already sold about 900 standing room only tickets, with an standing room cap of 1,000 tickets. The current Heinz Field attendance record is 67,234, for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 34-27 win over the Denver Broncos in 2015.

Barnes has always seemed open to continuing the rivalry with the Nittany Lions, but no negotiations have taken place about extending the series beyond 2019.

“We have had conversations, but no new conversations,” Barnes told assembled reporters at a roundtable Wednesday morning. “We would love to play this [into] perpetuity.”

Barnes knows this will be the football team’s first heated rivalry game since he took over as athletic director in April 2015. He admitted there is an added significance to these games, even when neither team is ranked in the national polls.

“There’s a lot of emotion around rivalries,” Barnes told reporters. “It’s not a top-20 game, but I think it’s an important step after a 16-year hiatus to create another step in our momentum.”

Penn State blogs have insisted the Nittany Lions’ fan base is largely responsible for Pitt’s season ticket sales record, and that there will be a large contingent of blue-and-white in the crowd Saturday. Penn State’s official Twitter account even started a campaign to try to white out Heinz Field.

Still, Barnes is convinced that there will be an overwhelming majority of Panthers faithfuls in attendance to give Pitt an added boost of hometown support.

“This is our house and I think that single-game sales and the fact that 16,000 of our season-ticket holders requested additional seats is a great example of our fans stepping up,” Barnes told reporters.

Editor’s note: The Pitt News misstated the current Heinz Field attendance record as 6,234. The attendance record is 67,234, set in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos on Dec. 20, 2015. The story has been updated to reflect the changes.