During his press conference at the owners meetings on Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about the league’s desire to expand its brand more internationally, and mentioned a “renewed” interest in playing a regular season game in Mexico.
Apparently that renewed interest came from Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who played their first international regular season game in 2013 when they were hosted by the Minnesota Vikings in London, appear to be one of the main drivers of international expansion among the league’s owners, and this should not be much of a surprise.
Considering the Rooney family’s well-documented ties to Ireland, for example—former team president and now chairman emeritus Dan Rooney served for several years as the US ambassador to Ireland in the recent past—it makes sense that their organization would like to reach out to a greater range of its diaspora.
Rooney has even spoken about his desire to play a game in Ireland before. Steelers president Art Rooney II mentioned to Bob Labriola that there was mutual interest in bringing the team in front of its South Korean supporters while Hines Ward—whose mother is Korean—was still with the team.
And as I have written previously on this site, the Steelers have the most support of any NFL team within Mexico. Pittsburgh did play in Mexico City in 2000 during a preseason game, and drew a tremendous crowd.
Rooney told Labriola that “we would love to play another game in Mexico at some point, and so that part of taking NFL football to another country is something in which we have a keen interest”.
He also went so far as to say that he “would be disappointed if we don’t have games in those two countries within the next five years”, the other country mentioned being Germany, which previously hosted five teams for the now defunct NFL Europe.
Rooney is a member of the NFL’s International Committee, which is fitting given that the Steelers have perhaps the most expansive and far-reaching fan base in the entire league.
It may be more difficult to find a famous landmark around the world in which there is not a picture of somebody holding up a Terrible Towel. The iconic yellow token has even been represented in Earth’s orbit, on the International Space Station.
The next time that the Steelers play the Dallas Cowboys in the regular season will be in 2016. Imagine the crowd that a game between those teams might draw in Mexico City. The two teams are perhaps the most popular NFL teams in the entire country, stemming in part from their shared rivalry of the 70s.
Of course, that would be a hard sell for both sides. As two of the league’s flagship organizations, neither would willingly give up a home game. The league would love to see both teams playing in international contests, but as when the Steelers were hosted by the Vikings a couple years ago, it works out better for everybody when a struggling franchise is playing host, and not a top draw.