Imagine the city boasting the franchise that has won the game more times than any other, the very city located within the region of the country where the sport first was played professionally hosting a Super Bowl. What once would have been considered laughable has become imaginable.
“There’s no doubt that football and Pittsburgh go together,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “We have a great tradition going all the way back to the early days of football, and because of that people in a lot of ways have come to look at Pittsburgh as a football town. Pittsburgh has come a long way, there’s no doubt about that. Twenty years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be talking about this.”
All of a sudden, based on the NFL’s experience with Super Bowl XLVIII in New York/New Jersey, the notion of professional football’s championship game being staged in open-air stadiums located in cities where winter weather is a part of daily life is no longer dismissed immediately.
“The fact we’ve now had a game outdoors in the north opens the door,” said Rooney. “I don’t think it’s going to be that northern cities are going to be in the regular rotation, but I think there will be more of them. Sure.”
Even before kickoff of the game at MetLife Stadium last Sunday, cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston and Denver had thrown themselves out as candidates to host future Super Bowls. So, why not Pittsburgh?
“There are questions about hotels and facilities and things like that where we need to compare ourselves to some of the competing cities,” said Rooney. “Indianapolis is one that’s a logical comparison, because it’s a similar size. I look at Indy, and I think the city has done a great job, but by the same token I’m not sure why we couldn’t do just as good a job. There’s work to do, but it’s certainly something worth some conversation at this point.”
Right now, it’s just that – conversation. The next step is to engage the proper people in subsequent conversations to determine whether there is sufficient interest in Pittsburgh hosting a Super Bowl to begin a process that will require a lot of time and coordinated cooperation.
“This is a long-term effort,” said Rooney. “I don’t think we’re talking about something that’s going to happen in three, four, or even five years from now. I don’t want to put a definite time frame on it, but it’s more than five years away.”
At least that far away, because the NFL has booked Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, Super Bowl L in San Francisco, and Super Bowl LI in Houston.
“The plan, or the thought, right now is that over the next maybe 12 months to visit with various community leaders, both in the public and private sectors and see if there is an appetite for exploring this,” said Rooney. “Initially if there is, the next step would be to put together some kind of committee – not a host committee – but some kind of committee that would get into more of the details and how this would be accomplished.
“If we test the waters and there’s an interest, it may take another two years to do the analysis and decide if we should really put an effort into this, and then to target a particular date, and things like that.”
The NFL places minimum requirements on cities interested in bidding for the right to host a Super Bowl, and chief among those are the number of hotel rooms and the seating capacity of the stadium. The Super Bowl not only is the most watched television program every year, but it also is an event attracting media and fans from all over the world. During his news conference on the Friday before Super Bowl XLVIII, Commissioner Roger Goodell put the required number of hotel rooms at 30,000. And the NFL also lists a “preferred” stadium capacity of 70,000.
“We have a lot of pieces already,” said Rooney. “We have a great Convention Center, which would be necessary. We have a number of great venues in terms of places to have parties and things like that – Stage AE, the venues in the Cultural District, even Market Square is a great place that could host a big party.
“Hotels are a question mark, where we probably are in need of more hotel rooms in general, but particularly in need of one or two large hotels Downtown to host his this kind of event. From what I understand, there are some hotels being discussed, and so that may be on the way. I’m not sure.
“The practice facilities – obviously our facility would be available, but there would need to be another one. Where that would be I don’t know – that would have to be something to be investigated. The stadium itself – whatever the state of the art happens to be when we’re talking about this, five or 10 years down the road, it would have to be able to compete with whichever other cities are bidding at that point. We certainly have a lot of the pieces, and we have to evaluate how to figure out the rest of the pieces in order to make a competitive bid.”
Super Bowls already have been held in Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Minneapolis, and each of those cities found ways to meet the league’s requirements. Indianapolis can be considered comparable to Pittsburgh in many ways, and Jacksonville actually has a smaller metropolitan area.
“It’s exciting to think about and talk about,” said Rooney, “but I temper that with the reality that I do think we have a way to go yet. But it’s one of those things where 20 years ago people would’ve thought you were nuts even to talk about it. Now I don’t think people look at you like you’re crazy when you do talk about it. So we’ve come that far, and so it’s worth a little more investigation.”