As the Pittsburgh Riverhounds embark on its fifth season in Highmark Stadium now under owner Tuffy Shallenberger, a mostly reshuffled front office is now charged with the task of managing the organization’s operations that include the pro team, Highmark Stadium and the Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA).
Heading up business operations for the Hounds since last Fall is a former Slippery Rock football player, and a longtime part of Shallenberger Construction company’s operations, Kevin Johnston.
Johnston has assumed the role of General Manager, overseeing all business operations for the Riverhounds, the Riverhounds Academy and Highmark Stadium.
“Tuffy is still very much involved, and he’s very passionate about everything with the Riverhounds,” said Johnston
“But, he’s taken a step back, and about seven months ago, after I was involved more behind the scenes, we talked and I had a business plan in mind, and it was decided that I would take over running the day-to-day, operational side of things.”
Johnston nsto also clarified that Hounds Head Coach, Dave Brandt and his coaching staff have handled all of the pro team’s personnel decisions as the team has solidified much its roster for the 2017 season early in January, and have been training together since mid-January.
“Dave, his staff and the players are working hard — and we’re all optimistic it’s going to be great season,” said Johnston.
“The bottom line is we want to put a quality product on the field and that will lead to getting a lot of people excited.”
The team is not only hoping for a turn around season on the field, but is also looking to break the string of flat-lining attendance as the team enters year number five at Highmark Stadium, in what could be viewed by some as an era marked by up-and-down results on the field and unreached potential at the gate.
Highmark Stadium opened in 2013 to rave reviews by many who praised its fantastic sight lines and location.
The Hounds are part of an incredibly competitive, fast-growing and changing soccer landscape in the United States, as a long-standing member of the USL — which has ascended to Second Division status in the U.S. Soccer Pyramid.
One of the requirements the Hounds will likely have to meet, will be an increase in seating capacity to more than 5,000 seats by the 2018 season.
“We’re not doing anything this year (with expanding seating), but we’ll be working closely with USL, and by 2018, we do what we have to keep up with the league’s standards,” said Johnston.
While this expansion is in the plans (Highmark Stadium seating capacity is listed as 3,500 plus standing room around the field takes capacity to somewhere around 4,000), the Hounds gate numbers haven’t topped an average over 3,000 fans since its inaugural season at Highmark Stadium in 2013.
With about a week to go before the team’s home opener against defending league champions NY Red Bulls II, Johnston said that the opener has not sold out, but has estimated “couple thousand” tickets sold, and they will be making a push in the final week to get a big opening day crowd.
The team’s front office and operations staff under Johnston includes additions of a new Director of Ticketing, Jason Dawbin and earlier this month a new Director of Sales and Sponsorships, Julie Klausner, was brought on board.
Johnston and his staff certainly have their work to do, and he’s also carefully navigating all parts — the Pro team, the Academy and the Stadium — as they are working independently and yet with each other toward interluding goals.
“There’s always going to be a bridge there, an affiliation that exists between the pro team and the youth side,” said Johnston.
“We’ll always be working together closely, but the pro team is our big ticket, and where we have to focus on winning and getting people to support. The academy continues to grow and we’re happy to say that things are progressing wonderfully with building home for the youth Academy.”
Johnston is referring to a future facility in Coroapolis, along Montour Run, that was announced last year would provide a training complex for the Hounds Academy youth teams and training programs.
Having this facility just West of the City of Pittsburgh for the youth programs will provide more flexibility for Johnston and his staff to make Highmark Stadium into a more profitable, multi-purpose venue.
“This will open up more space for us,” said Johnston. “We already have a concert scheduled (Dirty Heads and Soja), we are planning a food truck festival too.”
In addition, the new women’s Legends Football League team, the Pittsburgh Rebellion will be making Highmark Stadium its home this year.
Johnston recognizes the challenges that lie ahead, but also believes in the promise and potential of this franchise and Highmark Stadium.
“Bottom line in Pittsburgh is that we’ve got to win,” said Johnston.
“It’s been more than two years since the franchise’s bankruptcy, and we are at a point where we are so close to being a great organization. We’re really getting it together.”
“Right now, we’re focused on winning games and getting butts in the seats.”