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Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, where the Steelers' Franco Harris made his "Immaculate Reception" catch and Willie Stargell hit most of his 475 home runs for the Pirates, will be imploded in February. Before that happens, FreeMarkets Inc. is helping the hallowed stadium's manager keep not only memories of games gone by but a nice chunk of change as well.

FreeMarkets, an online b-to-b auctioneer, is handling a series of auctions for The Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh, which runs Three Rivers Stadium. Everything from the stadium's AstroTurf to goal posts to lockers is being put on the block. Proceeds will be used to offset construction costs of the two stadiums that will replace Three Rivers. PNC Park, which will be home to the Pirates, and Steelers Stadium will both open in 2001.

The first online auction, held in early November, brought in $519,000. The dozen participants included minor league baseball clubs, municipalities and small businesses. Among the items sold was a block of 3,727 seats, snapped up by the Long Island Ducks, an independent minor league baseball club, for $18,635.

JumboTron for sale

The biggest sale involved Three Rivers' JumboTron scoreboard. After several minutes of online bidding, the price jumped from $250,000 to $475,000 when Transit Image Inc., a New Jersey-based company that rents video screens, closed on it. "It was a better price for a JumboTron than we've seen in other markets," said Greg Yesko, communications director for The Sports & Exhibition Authority.

In January, FreeMarkets will run two more auctions of Three Rivers property, including televisions, restaurant equipment and the golf carts used to transport hobbled running backs.

Three Rivers' half-million-dollar auction was a small one for FreeMarkets. Many of the Pittsburgh-based company's online auctions, some held for Fortune 500 companies, bring in millions of dollars. But the stadium demolition market is an expanding one, and FreeMarkets intends to get first mover advantage, said Senior VP Doug Wnorowski. "We were interested because there is a business in this," he said.

There has been a huge wave of stadium construction that began in the early 1990s. Milwaukee's stolid County Stadium, for example, is being replaced next season by the fancier Miller Park. A consumer online auction of County Stadium's remnants took place last month.

Other stadiums set to be replaced include Mile High Stadium in Denver and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. FreeMarkets is actively pursuing online auctions for those venues, Wnorowski said.

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