A few months from now, a telephone call from President Art Rooney II will welcome the No. 1 draft pick to the team. But on Wednesday, Jan. 15, a different kind of phone call from Rooney went out to a group the Steelers value every bit as much as a talented young player: their season ticket holders.
As a service to their season ticket holders, the Steelers made their president available for a 30-minute question-and-answer session yesterday via a conference call format. At the appointed time, every Steelers season ticket holder received a call at the number listed on their account, with the opportunity to participate in the Rooney Q&A.
Some chose an active role and submitted questions, while countless others stayed on the sideline and just listened. Even those just listening can look on the exercise as time well spent, because toward the end of the half-hour, a question from a man who identified himself as a 10-year season ticket holder named Tony broke some news. Well, at least Tony got a bit of information from the Steelers President that hadn't come out during a half-dozen interviews the previous week.
Tony: "Who would be your No. 1 free agent on the team to re-sign?"
"There are probably a couple of guys we need to look at," said Rooney. "Jason Worilds is certainly somebody who came on and showed what he can do, particularly over the second half of the season. The truth of the matter is there is a lot of work that needs to be done between now and making some of those final decisions. The new league year doesn't start until March 11. Between now and then, we will be trying to make those decisions and having conversations with some of the players' agents, seeing what we can work out. There's no doubt we have a number of free agents we are going to want to keep. I assure you we are working hard on making sure that it happens."
Not exactly earth-shattering, but it showed a willingness by Rooney to take the questions seriously and try to answer them as completely as possible.
Steve, a 20-year season ticket holder, asked Rooney whether Troy Polamalu would spend his entire career with the Steelers.
Answered Rooney, "We would very much love to have Troy retire as a Steeler and expect that he will. As you probably know, he has a contract for next season, so how we structure or restructure is something we'll look at in the next few months. As we try to piece together next year and our salary cap, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but I certainly expect Troy will be one of the pieces of that puzzle. The great thing about this past season as far as Troy was concerned was that he played all 16 games. That's very helpful for us when we have a player like Troy who's able to stay healthy and play start to finish. He's obviously been one of the great Steelers of all time."
Being that the audience was made up of season ticket-holders, it only made sense that some of the questions had to do with the experience at Heinz Field. A 22-year season ticket holder named David went there when it was his turn. "What about upgrading Heinz Field, the sound system or putting in WiFi?"
"We would like in the near future, and it won't be a 2014 project, but in the near future we do want to upgrade the sound system at Heinz Field. It's needed at this time and it's definitely a project that's on the list," said Rooney. "As far as WiFi, we do have WiFi spots in certain places in the stadium, but we actually have more demand for better cell phone service in the stadium. So that's been what we've focused on the last few years, and hopefully our fans are seeing the results. Two years ago, AT&T came in and upgraded its antenna system at Heinz Field. I think our AT&T customers saw the results. Last year, Verizon came in and added some antenna for its system. Frankly, we'd like fans to let us know how that experience is, because we don't have a great way of actually testing that except for getting feedback. If you have an experience, good or bad, and you wanted to give us a comment on it, we'd appreciate hearing from you. It is something that we have our eye on, and we certainly understand that our fans want to have access to their text messages and their cell phone calls. We've made progress, and we know we need to continue to improve on it as the years go on."
Then there was this question from John, a 41-year season ticket holder: "We're paying the same price for exhibition games that we're paying for regular season games and not getting quite the same product. Can anything be done about that?"
"It's a subject we are actually looking at this year. I can't tell you that any decisions have been made yet, but we are looking at possibly having a different price on preseason tickets vs. other games," said Rooney. "Whether that goes into effect for 2014 or not, I can't promise you today, but I can promise you it's something we're looking at and we understand the fans' perception of the value of the preseason games. We do think it's something we want to take a look at and try to be creative about it."
Michael from Aspinwall allowed the Steelers President to send a message to the Hall of Fame selection committee when he asked, "Is it finally time for Jerome Bettis to get into the Hall of Fame?"
"There is no doubt about it. As far as I'm concerned, this should be Jerome's year, and I have to say I can't understand how the guy who retired as the fifth-leading rusher of all time doesn't get into the Hall of Fame," said Rooney. "Somebody is going to have to explain to me how that works if it doesn't happen. Every year there are a lot of worthy candidates, but when I look at the last few years and the fact Jerome didn't get in, it's hard for me to understand how he wouldn't be elected this year. Hopefully it's going to be an exciting day for us. The day before the Super Bowl, Feb. 1, is when they have the vote, and I hope we'll all keep our fingers crossed and say our prayers that the voters see the light. Jerome deserves to be in there."
Rooney concluded with, "I would like to say, again, thanks to our season ticket holders and all their great support over many, many years. It was great to talk to so many of you today. Hopefully, we will do something like this again pretty soon."