Photos by Patricia Beninato, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Petersen Events Center 3719 Terrace Street Pittsburgh, PA 15261
Year Opened: 2002
Pitt Loves the Pete
The University of Pittsburgh’s athletic program gets most of its attention for football, but basketball is also a marquee attraction. Unlike the football team who shares their home venue, Heinz Field, with the Steelers, Pitt basketball has its own venue, Petersen Events Center.
Named after its main contributor, former Erie Insurance executive John Petersen, the Pete, as it’s nicknamed, has been home to Panthers basketball since 2002. While not quite as successful as their gridiron counterparts, the Panthers under head coach Jeff Capel are a force in the ACC, led by stars like Ithiel Horton and Femi Odukale, and the Pete’s a pretty fun place to watch them.
Food & Beverage 4
An advantage of an on-campus venue such as Petersen Events Center is that it keeps relatively poor college students in mind. To wit, the arena has a food court that’s open every day. Not all the stands will be available for a Pitt basketball game, but Chick-fil-A is the exception. Better yet, this isn’t a situation where the prices are jacked up to Big Sports level; they’re the same as in a regular CFA. Three more traditional concession stands offer hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, and sandwiches.
The arena began serving beer at games this year (2022) in another unusual move, which is not often seen on college campus venues. Beers like Coors will run you ten bucks, while premium stuff like White Claw is a dollar more. You’ll pay $17 at most for a dog and beer. The concession stands also have QR banners–scan, order, and pay on your smartphone, and you’ll be notified when everything’s ready, a boon to those who hate long lines.
Petersen Events Center has a 12,508-seat capacity for basketball on three levels, with club seating on the second level. It’s also the only Division 1 venue with luxury courtside suites. Seats are comfortable with excellent sightlines. The center court console has four substantial LCD screens, topped with a gold-colored bridge (remember, this is Pittsburgh) and a crawl screen around the second level. Two giant screens above the student seating show stats for each team, as well as a stylized figure of the Cathedral of Learning, Pitt’s most prominent landmark.
Student seating, aka the Oakland Zoo (Pitt’s located in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood), curves around the right side of the venue, with the pep band right next to them and Pitt’s mascot Roc the Panther and various cheerleaders roaming around. The Zoo is very involved in the game, from pretending to read newspapers while the opposing team is announced, lowering them to yell “SUCKS!” after each name, to throwing blue-and-gold confetti when Pitt scores for the first time in the game. Also, when singing the Star-Spangled Banner, make sure you yell HAIL because #Hail2Pitt, after all. The pep band’s pretty good, playing everything from Ed Sheeran to Skid Row to Led Zeppelin. They’re all having fun, which spreads to the crowd. The PA announcer is relatively low-key, and when the band’s not playing, you can hear some interesting remixes of current and classic pop hits.
Petersen Events Center is in the heart of Pitt’s campus, with two of the city’s main drags, Fifth Avenue and Forbes Avenue, only a couple of blocks away. Because Pittsburgh’s main hospital campus is here as well, there are hotels such as Residence Inn by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn. Restaurant chains like Five Guys and Panera Bread abound, but those in the know hit up Las Palmas two blocks off Forbes for the best tacos in Pittsburgh or Hunan Bar for great Chinese food.
As for bars, you better believe there are some good ones around here, including an outpost of local Irish favorite Fuel and Fuddle, Thirsty Scholar, and Hemingway’s Pub, all featuring excellent bar munchies and tons of beers both mainstream and craft. Of course, it’s an urban neighborhood, so it’s always a good idea to pay attention to your surroundings here. Still, it’s not an unsafe area by any means, being patrolled by both city and university police.
Right now, Pitt’s not that good, so attendance is on the low side; the game I attended was roughly 60% capacity. However, the crowd was attentive and involved outside the Zoo, particularly as Pitt pulled away from its opponent in the second half. It should be noted that the loudest cheers during the game were reserved for the Pitt football team, who were on the court receiving some national individual awards during a media break.
They did win the ACC, so maybe that’s understandable. ESPN the Magazine once rated Petersen Events Center as the sixth loudest venue in college basketball. Judging by the volume at this game, it’s a well-earned reputation, even with a relatively small crowd. The Pete may also be the only sports venue in Pittsburgh where most of the crowd isn’t dressed in black and gold, favoring Pitt’s royal blue and gold.
Interstate 376, aka the Parkway, is the easiest way to get to Petersen Events Center if you’re driving; from either direction, follow the signs for Forbes Avenue, which in turn will have signs for the arena. Numerous parking garages surround the area, with an average price of $10, and there are several Port Authority bus lines that run from downtown to campus. Pitt has its own intra-campus bus system, but it’s not available to the public unless you’re a Pitt student or with one. If you need wheelchair access or just don’t want to go up and down stairs–the arena is, for lack of a better term, located in a valley–make sure you utilize the lobby entrance and the adjacent parking lot.
Once inside, you’ll find broad concourses and easily visible direction signs. The Pete offers wheelchair seating. Restrooms are large and clean, with wheelchair-accessible stalls.
Return on Investment 4
Pitt’s a big-time Division 1 school no matter its record, and tickets are priced according to who it’s playing. You could get $13 upper-level seats for the Georgia Tech game at the time of writing, but when Pitt plays Duke, that same ticket will start at $49. If you don’t have a preference about seeing a particular Pitt opponent, tickets, along with concessions and parking, can be pretty reasonable.
Since Pittsburgh doesn’t have an NBA team, Panthers basketball is about as close as you can get, and taking in a game can be a fun and not hugely expensive part of a Pittsburgh visit. And let’s be honest–it’s a rarity for most Pittsburgh visitors not to see some type of sporting event during their stay.
Those looking for souvenirs will love the Pitt store at Petersen Events Center, aka the Pitt Shop at the Pete, which has a wide array of clothing for men, women, and kids, as well as some cool novelties–at the time of my visit, there was even Pitt football stuff.
The arena also acts as a student center of sorts, with a comfortable lounge near the food court and an absolutely massive fitness center (sorry, only for the students).
The McCarl Hall of Champions is a small, well-designed museum dedicated to Pitt basketball and Pitt’s broadcast studios are here too.
Tours of the venue are available.
Pittsburgh as a whole has excellent sports venues and Petersen Events Center, home of the University of Pittsburgh basketball programs, is no exception to that rule. Its location on Pitt’s campus in the heart of Pittsburgh makes it a great place to see a game, and the lively neighborhood is a draw for locals and visitors alike. Pitt loves the Pete!