A couple of days ago, Kevin Creagh of Pirates Prospects interviewed Frank Coonelly.
The prez stepped in it when he said "...we will be able to support that payroll ($70-80M) very soon if our fans believe that we now have a group of players in Pittsburgh and on its way here in the near future that is competitive. We need to take a meaningful step forward in terms of attendance to reach that payroll number... I am convinced that the attendance will move quickly once we convince our fans that we are on the right track."
He sure makes it sound like the fans' lack of faith is the team's biggest problem, which is certainly not the message he should trumpeting.
It's not the first time that the FO has suggested the payroll is dependent on the attendance. Maybe Coonelly thinks that the Pittsburgh fans will come out to see a show that quite frankly is pretty poor. That "chicken or the egg" argument doesn't really fly.
He may be looking at the Steelers, Penguins, and Pitt hoops as examples of standing room only, get in line support as typical City fan bases. But if he were a little better student of local sports history, he'd understand that none of the above put an appreciable number of warm fannies in their seats until they started to win. Treat the 'Burghers to a competitor in every sense of the word, and they'll stick with you.
Heck, even with the historically poor performance of the big league product, the Pirates have never dipped under 19,000 per game at PNC Park. Nor have they seen a payroll north of $50M plus since 2003. Job should have been so patient.
We're hoping that Coonelly's statement is just another in a long line of PR faux pas that the team has committed in front the media and the fans. If it's not, then we better start to worry; the only thing it can mean is that the franchise either isn't willing to invest in a team that can't draw fans without fireworks and bobbleheads, or worse, can't afford to.
Neither is a good thing. Let's give Coonelly the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just misstated his position and meant to say that he anticipates that as the team's performance improves, so will attendance and payroll. That makes perfect sense.
(EDIT - Bob Nutting realized the collateral damage from Coonelly's statement and quickly told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review that "payroll increases will not hinge on increased attendance. He added that he expects more fans will show up as the team improves, which will require a higher payroll." So it's wait and see.)