Last April, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC announced the hiring of veteran sports executive Vic Gregovits as its new team President, bringing home a Pittsburgh native with more than 30 years of experience in sports management to lead the club’s front office.
In 10 months time, Gregovits has already implanted his mark with the organization, steering the business side of things forward even as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to present ongoing challenges.
The West Homestead native and graduate of Bishop Boyle High School and Robert Morris University who has held front office roles with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Louisville Bats and Cleveland Cavaliers among others, acknowledges that there’s still a lot of work to do as the club gears up for the 2022 season.
Among the obstacles facing the club including boosting attendence numbers. The Hounds landed 18th (of 30 clubs) in the USL Championship in overall attendance in 2021. Gregovits is optimistic that continued incremental growth, stronger grassroots marketing efforts and the team’s success on the field will help bring more fans to Highmark Stadium in 2022.
Here are some key excerpts from PSN’s exclusive one-on-one interview with Gregovits earlier this week.
What has your experience been like thus far, in your first 10 months with the Riverhounds?
“It’s been a sprint. I started a couple weeks prior to the (2021) season. We’re still very much in COVID protocols. We scrambled to get ready for the season. I learned a lot.”
From your perspective, what are some of the advantages in your role to help generate more revenue and grow the Riverhounds SC organization on the business side of things?
“From my seat, there’s been continued growth in soccer in this area. From my experience, and I got my start with the Pittsburgh Spirit more than 30 years ago, is to see how much it’s grown in this time. Now, stepping in here, I had to relearn the market. Look at the many opportunities that are in front of us. We have an outstanding soccer team. There’s great entertainment value there. We have a wonderful venue. Bob (Lilley) is a great coach who has the team positioned to be a playoff team and contending for a championship every year.”
On the flip side, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face in this role?
“We’re still ramping things up. Ahead of a new season, we have to hire more staff. We’re still looking to bounce back strong from COVID-19. We’re still in the process of hiring a Marketing Director. A big part of what we are going to want to do is make more of a grassroots effort to go into the community. There are still a lot of people who still don’t know about the Riverhounds. It’s important to get more people to experience a game at Highmark Stadium for the first time. Once they come, they’ll want to come back.”
Looking back at the past eight plus years it’s been in operation, Highmark Stadium has been an important centerpiece for the club. How will the club continue to utilize the facility?
“We’re looking at everything. Festivals. Rugby. We’re working with Visit Pittsburgh to use the complex for the Senior Olympics. This facility provides so much flexiblity. Even this past year, due to COVID-19, we were able to give religous organizations to host gatherings. We’ve hosted the Jazz and Blues Festivals. It provides a great back drop.”
How involved are you with the day-to-day operations of the pro soccer team, with the Academy — or are you entirely focused on the business side of the equation?
“I am running the business side of things. We’re a small company though. With a small organization, everyone is involved in a lot of things that are going on. We have a lot of conversations about all things.”
Attendance was down a bit last year for the pro team (*), but that was understandable due spectator restrictions that were in place early in the season. What are your takeaways from last season’s attendance numbers?
“We didn’t know how it was going to go. COVID was a factor. There were a lot of unknowns, especially early in the season. The latter part of the year, things picked up. We had a nice run with Saturday night games bringing in good attendence numbers. I can fully understand that some fans were apprehensive. We did better with individual ticket sales as the season went along. Group (sales) numbers are different, and something that has really diminished since we opened things back up. We have to look to continue to grow. We provide many offerings. We have full season ticket and flex packages. There’s something for everyone. The biggest thing, is we want to make sure that everyone has a chance to sample, have a gameday experience at Highmark Stadium. Then, they’ll come out regularly. We’re excited that in 2022, all of our home games will be Saturday nights. That’s will give us an advantage.”
(*) Riverhounds SC Attendance Figures in 2021 Courtesy Soccer Stadium Digest:
18th in USLC (of 30 clubs), averaged 3,133 fans per game (largest turnout 3,929), in 15 home games.
Is there anything you can do differently in positioning this franchise in this market, with the current pro sports teams and culture that is firmly established?
“Pittsburgh is a Top 25 market. There’s plenty of room. Plenty of fans here for everyone to be successful. We certainly want to reach out to the soccer fans in our community. However, what we’re really looking for are the entertainment seeking audience. We provide an excellent value and an entertaining product.”
The club recently announced expanded partnership with 84 Lumber that will include having their logo on road game jerseys. The Riverhounds also have forged a strong partnership with Allegheny Health Network. These are strong building blocks for the franchise to continue to position itself to continue in building more community support. What has it been like to work with those organizations?
“(Riverhounds SC team owner) Tuffy (Shallenberger) has worked with the Hardy Family for many years in his construction business. It’s an exciting partnership. It’s nice to have a company and have a partnership with a national brand, like 84 Lumber, who will have an opportunity to be seen on our uniforms, but also on our stadium signboard, website and more. This provides them with exposure when we’re on the road, in other markets.”
“Our relationship with Allegheny Health Network has been absolutely wonderful on so many fronts. Highmark Stadium. On the new (Montour) complex. They’ve been so supportive of growth of the youth (soccer) programs. They’ve been an integral part of the building of the new complex. Of course, they’ll have medical facilities there and that’s a big part of it too.”
Where do things stand now with the Montour Junction Complex, and when will the pro team and the academy programs start utilizing that facility?
“It’s still under construction, but as you may have seen, we’ve been sharing how the progress is going, almost once per week or so. It’s tough to say right now when it will be completely finished. That’s actually more of a Tuffy (Shallenberger) question. There are some factors involved that are challenging. Everyone is dealing with supply chain issues right now. We’ll keep providing updates.”
“As for the transition of the (pro) team’s headquarters and the (Riverhounds Development) Academy to Montour, there will definitely be a transition period. We’re still working through all of that, but we do expect both to be there this year.”
“That will become our home base for the pro team and for the academy. This will also open things up for us to do more at Highmark Stadium. Right now, between the teams that use the facility, there is not as much flexiblity with scheduling, but once they move to Montour, that will definitely open things up for groups and organizations to use the complex during the week and in the evenings. We’re excited about those possibilities.”
What’s ahead for you and the club in 2022?
“We have a lot of fun things planned. We’ll continue to focus on the gameday experience. You’ll begin to see, that we’ll be rolling out many different things. The Tailgate Zone will be back, and it will be even bigger. An App is also coming. This will help with the fan experience. It will provide content and engagement. It’s on the horizon. We’ll be announcing more about this very soon.”
“It should be an exciting year. Bob will have the team ready on the field. We’re optimistic that fan support will continue to grow.”