By Kalea Hall
The full impact of Jim Tressel as president of Youngstown State University and Bo Pelini as YSU’s football coach is not yet completely known.
But YSU Athletic Director Ron Strollo has noticed some trends that he believes could lead to big things in the future.
“In my 20 years, we have never seen this amount of interest at this point in the year in buying tickets,” Strollo said. “It has everything to do with Bo being named coach.”
When Pelini was selected as coach in mid-December, the excitement of having the Cardinal Mooney graduate and former University of Nebraska football coach as the field marshal of YSU’s football team already had started to build.
Rumors of Pelini coming back to Youngstown had started after Eric Wolford was fired.
Season tickets, which run $99 for reserved season tickets and $77 for general admission season tickets, typically start to sell in the spring for the upcoming season.
Not this time.
The YSU ticket office already has had people buy 2015 season tickets, and some have purchased Penguin Club Gridiron memberships. Some also are buying more tickets at once — purchasing six tickets instead of four, for example. The waiting list for suites in the stadium has also increased.
As a result, business around YSU is expected to pick up.
“I think the trickle-down effect is by having more people, there are more people paying to park and more people buying from concessions,” Strollo said.
The entire athletic community could benefit from more people in the stands. The YSU baseball team sells merchandise at the games and the softball team sells 50/50 raffle tickets, Strollo said.
After Tressel was chosen university president last summer, corporate sponsorships started to rise.
“I would say our corporate sponsorship [program and scoreboard advertisements] are up 10 percent,” Strollo said.
Restaurants downtown and near campus also feel the impact.
“We get a lot of people who tailgate,” Strollo said. “There is a significant impact there. All of that generates a lot of downtown business.”
Cassese’s MVR’s Joe Cassese exudes in YSU pride, as does the restaurant he manages.
He is a YSU alumnus and a major fan. He was a student equipment manager for the football team while he attended the university, and he would later work in the athletic department as director of athletic development.
At the restaurant where Tressel Tortellini is the best-selling pasta, a penguin statue greets customers at the door and YSU T-shirts are on display. Cassese said he is excited for what the area will see with Tressel and Pelini back in town.
“As a lifelong Penguin supporter, we are just elated to have two difference-makers actively in positions where they can be very impactful in the community,” Cassese said.
Joe is the son of Carmine Cassese, the third-generation owner of the Youngstown landmark restaurant. Carmine died in June 2013 from complications related to pancreatic cancer. Carmine worked as the head equipment manager for the YSU football program.
Carmine's picture hangs in the center of the bar of the MVR (Mahoning Valley Restaurant) and the pride he had in developing the place in Youngstown’s Smoky Hollow neighborhood is still noticeable. During his leadership he added dining rooms, bocce courts and patios.
Those additions could fill up fast come next football season.
Joe Cassese sees the potential to have normal days turn into above-average days.
When there are more people, there is more business.
“It translates to positives for all of us,” Cassese said.
There isn’t a Pelini pasta yet, but Cassese said come fall 2015 there will be.
“Bo’s specialty item will be ready for the crowd,” he said.
Angelina Snyder and Anne Massullo Sabella, co-owners of the West Federal Street Avalon Downtown, which specializes in pizza, anticipate a boost in business during the football season with Pelini back in town. Tailgaters often head to the restaurant and bar before a game to grab a slice or a pie. Their picks include the traditional, pepperoni and the Brier Hill.
Customers “come in and watch the games and we get a lot of business after the games [at YSU’s stadium],” Massullo Sabella said. “I think it is all based on location.”
Snyder thinks the return of Tressel and Pelini is a positive for all of downtown.
“I definitely think with both of them back in town it will bring more business,” Snyder said.
The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber has also thought about the impact of Tressel and Pelini. The chamber ran an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 24. It welcomed Pelini back to Youngstown, and promoted the university with the words: “We have a winning team at Youngstown State University.” Tressel’s return was also mentioned in the ad.
“Pelini gives us a couple of unique opportunities,” said Guy Coviello, vice president of government affairs for the chamber.
When the season starts, and maybe before, there will be national coverage on our area, Coviello said. Some stories may go beyond football and look at what is happening here in Youngstown.
“Clearly there is a lot of attention,” Strollo said. “What it allows you to do is to say, ‘Hey, something special is going on at Youngstown State.’”