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.
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".
The food and beverage at Heinz Field is better than most. There is your normal stadium fare, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, nachos and soft pretzels. Soda is Coca Cola and the prices for both the food and soda seem to be in line with industry standards, if not slightly high as they are the same for both Panthers and Steelers games. They also have a few popular local options such as Primanti Bros. sandwiches and Quaker Steak & Lube wings. The big difference is that you cannot buy alcohol for the Panthers games, except in the club level.
The food in the club seats is a bit different, with the hot dogs being jumbo and costing $5 and the nachos being $7.50, but they come topped with chili plus there is a full toppings bar with salsa, sour cream, jalapenos, etc. There is also a full bar featuring some high quality liquor. I think drinks were in the $8 range.
Before kickoff, the fans are usually very loud. The stadium video/sound team does a great job of keeping the fans entertained with timely videos and music clips before the band plays. The band itself is an average college marching band, with nothing that really sticks out as signature. The fans are always optimistic before kickoff no matter who the opponent is or what the Panthers record is. The tailgaters in the stadium lots are always rocking and you can smell the grilling from inside the stadium concourses.
I have yet to find a bad seat inside of Heinz Field. The scoreboard, located on the open South end of the stadium is huge and can be seen from nearly every seat. Anyone wearing anything but Pitt clothing is quickly greeted with obscene chants and jeers. Panther games always seem to sport a good atmosphere, at least before the opening kickoff.
The area around the stadium is an odd mix. The main attractions are the brand new Rivers casino, the Carnegie Science Center, PNC Park and Jerome Bettis's restaurant, "Grill 36." Gate C on the North side of the stadium is located just 50 feet from the Interstate ramps and if you go under the bridge you wind up in the North side. The first few blocks include a Wendy's, a McDonalds and the Police station, but quickly fade into condensed urban housing.
Depending on the Panthers opponent, parking in the pay lots range from $10 to $40 for the night with some lots allowing tailgating while others outlaw it. Street parking is free anytime and there is a nice area with a good amount of parking on Page Street beside McKnight Playground. Parking in this area provides quick access to both directions of Interstate 376 allowing you to beat most traffic.
Unlike Steelers games, the Panthers rarely sell out the stadium. They have had only 4 sellouts in their first 10 years in the stadium. Panther fans can be passionate if the game is close, but it seems like after 1 or 2 short offensive series, they go into a slumber, calling for the backup quarterback, lamenting the play calling and generally becoming disinterested and start discussing Steelers football instead. For a team that is annually in the top 25, it is just not the large, noisy crowd that you would expect.
The student section is most often the loudest section of the crowd. As with most college student sections, they are also often quite inebriated. One thing that really brings the students back to life even during a dull game is the signing of "Sweet Caroline" at the end of the 3rd quarter. They even change a few lines of the song to include the word Pitt.
Parking for a Panthers game is usually fairly easy as the stadium lots usually don't fill up. As mentioned in the neighborhood section, there are also a good number of off-site parking options including some free ones.
Another option is to go to the Rivers Casino and pull some slot machines for a few minutes in exchange for the free parking that they offer to patrons. Two other popular options with those who plan ahead are to park on the other side of the river and use either the Gateway Clipper boats or the Roberto Clemente Bridge to walk to the stadium. The boats are certainly a unique way to travel to/from the stadium.
Once you get to the stadium, the stadium staff is nice and helpful if you have questions. They really move the lines along to get you inside of the stadium. You have to hold your arms out as they do a quick pat down. This is in line with NFL security standards since the field is also used by the Steelers. There are plenty of ramps, stairs and escalators to get you to your section quickly and efficiently.
The big thing still missing is the subway line that eventually will carry people from the city to within 50 feet of the stadium. The other issue is for Pitt students, who have to be bussed to and from the stadium since it is located off campus. The line forms around Gate B at the end of games so it is advised that visiting fans avoid this gate when leaving the stadium.
Season tickets start at $87 for 7 home games for the Panthers, which is a great bargain for a school that is consistently toward the top of the Big East and traditionally ranked. Couple this with the available free or cheap parking options and your return on investment is really good. The only drawback is that despite the lack of sellouts, individual game tickets range in price from $35 to $50 plus transaction fees. Basically, if you are going to more than 2 games, it is cheaper to buy the $87 season ticket package and sell off the games you are not going to attend.
If you are in Pittsburgh for the entire weekend, finding some cool things to do outside of the Panthers game should be fairly easy. Besides looking to pair the Panthers game with another sporting event like a Pirates game in early fall or a Penguins game in late fall, there is also a multiple time champion women's football team called the Passion. Pittsburgh is highly rated for its art galleries and theatre. A ride up the incline on Mt. Washington is also a very neat experience. There is also a nice zoo which only takes a few hours to walk through.
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