Constructed in 2001, Heinz Field is still a relatively new sports venue. Out of season, the stadium plays host to a variety of concerts, but it is primarily known as the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pitt Panthers football teams. With a capacity of just over 65,000, the stadium provides an exciting venue when full.
Naming rights to the stadium belong to the H.J. Heinz Company, the ketchup manufacturer that has its headquarters in the city only minutes from the stadium.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Heinz Field provides a solid mix of standard and specialty food items at the stadium. You can, of course, find the average burgers, pizza, hot dogs, wings, soda, etc., but with local Primanti Brothers sandwiches (which come complete with the French fries right on the sandwiches - a Pittsburgh staple), there's a bit of a local flair as well. Beer drinkers, beware. If it's alcohol you crave, you'll need to fork over the money for a club seat as the entire stadium save the club level is alcohol free ... part of Pitt's goal to make the games as family-friendly as possible.
All in all, it's difficult to complain about the quality of food. Having tried several items, I found nearly everything to be to my liking. All of the food is hot and there are plenty of available locations. Stopping at several, I never found the wait to be more than a few minutes - and some had no wait at all.
Overall, prices on the food are fairly reasonable compared to other stadiums and even with the price of an $8 souvenir cup soda, it is manageable since it includes a free refill.
The atmosphere surrounding the stadium is above average with sounds of the band, tailgating, and live music. However, it is a different story once inside and you don't get the true feel of a college football game as you do in an on-campus stadium.
One small example is that instead of the end zones being painted with 'Pittsburgh' in one end and 'Panthers' in the other, Pitt games feature 'Pittsburgh' in one end and slash marks through the other since the venue needs to be ready for Steelers games, which are often the next day. In addition, while there are Panthers items and memorabilia around the stadium (i.e. the team's championship trophies and banners with retired numbers of historic players), the venue still has a large amount of Steelers feel to it and you see a lot of black and gold instead of blue and gold. It can't really be helped, obviously, but it does take a bit away from attending a Pitt game.
With several options to hang out before or after the game, the area around Heinz Field isn't too bad. There are a dozen or so establishments in any direction fairly close by including Jerome Bettis' signature restaurant and it's not hard to find something without too far of a walk. Several of the places may be too loud for your taste, but all in all, the restaurants around serve a variety of food and drink. A short walk will also bring you into the very urban north side. The area is generally pretty safe around game days because of the sheer volume of people, but you may not want to walk around in the middle of the night.
If you happen to catch a Pitt game early in the season, you may even find the Pittsburgh Pirates playing at PNC Park, which is a five-minute walk from Heinz Field. Also, a short walk across one of the bridges will take you into the downtown area where an abundance of restaurants exist. You can also walk over to the large fountain or just stay on the stadium side for a walk along the river.
As far as things to do, there are a variety of options all a short trip from the stadium.
My trip to Heinz Field was for the Panthers' big opening game against Florida State. While fans were upbeat and loud early on and before the game, that quickly died down once the team fell behind. Unfortunately, the setting is even worse for smaller opponents where the team often finds it hard to draw a large crowd. Many fans left in the third quarter, including a good number of students. While the game was out of reach by then, it is generally disappointing to be sitting in a fairly quiet stadium for what is arguably the team's biggest game of the season.
The atmosphere in the game is really sucked out quite a bit due to fans leaving early or being overly quiet. That said, to judge Pitt fans solely on the Florida State contest wouldn't be entirely fair since the team was overmatched pretty early and it was a difficult game to watch.
The student section gave the crowd a nice boost early on and the singing of Sweet Caroline after the third quarter is one stage of every game where the fans get into it. While the fans may not be perfect, if the game is close, generally they get loud and many will hang around until the end.
There are plenty of ways to park for a Pitt game, but keep in mind that the most convenient lots and garages are pre-sold to donors before the season begins. If you're in need of an option extremely close by, it gets difficult. A bevy of parking options exist including street parking on the north side, a few smaller private lots owned by small businesses, or over in the downtown area. Most, however, will require at least a modest walk. Some, including a few of the accessible streets in the north side, can be up to a 20-minute walk away.
The good news is that while parking in the lots or garages can be a hassle due to most being pre-sold, parking in the north side neighborhood along several of the streets is completely free. It results in a longer walk to the stadium, but because you can easily access Route 28 or I-376 without fighting your way out of a parking lot or garage, you won't sit in as much traffic.
Also of note is a new policy implemented at Heinz Field in 2013 for Pitt games regarding bags. The only bags allowed into the stadium are clear bags (i.e. clear tote bags up to 12" x 12" or one-gallon clear storage bags) and for female fans, that means no large purses. Very small purses approximately the size of a palm (technically, no larger than 4 ˝" x 6 ˝") are allowed, but other than those for medical devices, that's all, folks.
Often, getting into the stadium can be a small adventure and take up to 15 minutes or so. However, it's not much different than other venues hosting major college football. Once inside, bathrooms are plentiful and without waits to get inside.
Pitt football tickets are extremely affordable compared to those of other programs. While a season ticket elsewhere can cost thousands, the most inexpensive Pitt season tickets can be had for around $100. Even a pair of the more expensive seats in the lower level around midfield could be had for approximately $500 for the entire season.
The quality of play on the field has been a bit down in 2011 and 2012, but even with that, Heinz Field remains an incredible bargain for Pitt games. There aren't a lot of major college football games that are affordable over the course of an entire season for many families, but Pitt games at Heinz Field are an exception.
There's so much to do if visiting the City of Pittsburgh and if you find yourself in town, many options are even close to the stadium.
Only minutes away in the north side is the National Aviary where you can see all sorts of species of birds from around the world. The famous Andy Warhol Museum is also in the neighborhood as is the Carnegie Science Center and a casino.
If you're after more sports, a five-minute walk from Heinz Field brings you to PNC Park where you can catch a Pirates game or you can drive across into downtown to watch the Penguins play at the Consol Energy Center. If you venture a little farther away, there's even more.
Pittsburgh's Strip District is approximately a ten minute drive from the north side and it features a variety of ethnic foods and shops. In the other direction is the south side where you can ride the incline up the side of a mountain for a fantastic view of the city or take in some of the 100+ restaurants and bars. The large Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium is also only about a half hour away from the stadium as are many other museums, amusement parks, and more.
Heinz Field is a beautiful stadium built in 2001 and shared between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pitt Panthers. Official capacity is 65,050. The stadium is located on the North Shore, between the Carnegie Science Center and PNC Park. The other sides of the stadium are flanked by the Interstate and the Ohio River. The stadium itself is basically a horseshoe design, with the open end providing a very nice view across the Ohio River.
The field itself is named after local ketchup manufacturing company, H.J. Heinz. Everything is well marked to get you to your seat effectively, except for the club seats. The entrances for those are a little hidden, but the stadium staff are very knowledgeable and will help you find your way if needed. Overall there is a good flow from the gate to your seat. Also, be sure to check out the main lobby area between gates A and B, as there is a great display showing the previous football stadiums in Pittsburgh, the Steelers 6 Lombardi Trophies and of course, the info on the Panthers 9 claimed national titles.
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