The Pirates are nearing their first postseason appearance since '92, and "growing enthusiasm" for the team is "most evident at the box office," according to a sports section cover story by Carmen Gentile of USA TODAY. Once one of "the worst draws in baseball, the Pirates have sold out a record 20 games this year and have the second-highest attendance" since PNC Park opened in '01. Team officials said that attendance over the last few months "has averaged 32,576 fans a game." In previous years, when the Pirates "were well out of the playoff race, 10,000 or less often showed up for a September game." Fans at home "are tuned in, too." Local TV viewership has "jumped 22% vs. last year, making this season the highest rated of all time." The Pirates currently rank third among MLB teams in local viewership. The club has "developed a substantial following on Facebook as well, and not just in the city itself." Fans of the Pirates' team page "have jumped 75% to 454,000 the past two years." Facebook data shows that while "most live in the Pittsburgh area, 19 of the top 50 cities for Pirates fans (roughly 38%) are outside Pennsylvania." MLB.com data shows that team merchandise sales "are up 53% from last year," the fourth-largest increase among MLB teams this year. The growing support for the Pirates "isn't going unnoticed in the clubhouse." Pirates 2B Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh native, said that the "renewed interest is a big boost for a club hoping to add their own chapter to a storied franchise that dominated the sporting landscape here for decades until the Steelers rose to prominence" (USA TODAY, 9/20).
FOR HE'S A JOLLY GOOD FELLOW: In Pittsburgh, David Templeton in a front-page piece reports fans are buying Jolly Roger flags "by the thousands, with Pirates retail sales now equaling those of the Steelers, even with the NFL season underway." Pittsburgh-area retail store Yinzers Owner Jim Coen said that he has "sold out of the flag several times, with 500 flags flying out the door weekly." Coen: "It's getting to the point where it's like the Terrible Towel." A major flag supplier indicated that 5,000 Jolly Roger flags "were sold last week and 'all went to Pittsburgh.'" Coen: "This time of year traditionally we're trying to give Pirates stuff away. Now I'm trying to get as much as I can get, Jolly Roger-wise." Local retailer Pittsburgh Fan manager Michael Romano said that the store is "selling 100 flags daily, making it its No. 1 selling item." Pirates Senior Dir of Communications Brian Warecki said that the Pirates "own the phrase as a trademark." However, the team "holds no rights to the historical skull and crossbones image" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/20).