The Steelers connection to Ireland is one that has its roots deeply seeded in the Rooney family history, as they emigrated from the Island of Ireland in the 1840s.
Those roots are something they have always held close to their heart, spending vacations on the Emerald Isle, bringing Steelers football to Dublin in 1997 and then late Steelers Chairman Daniel M. Rooney serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012.
And now, the Steelers are taking it one step further.
Earlier this week the NFL and the Steelers announced the team was awarded rights to expand their brand and activities for the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland, as part of the NFL's 'Global Markets Program.'
To celebrate the partnership with the Rooney family's homeland, members of the Steelers organization are in Ireland this week, and appeared at a press conference on Thursday morning at Croke Park, the site of the 1997 preseason game that featured the Steelers and Chicago Bears. Among those attending and on hand for the activities in Ireland is Daniel Rooney, the Steelers Director of Business Development & Strategy and the son of Steelers President Art Rooney II and grandson of Dan Rooney. He is no stranger to visiting Ireland, spending summer vacations there with the family, attending the Steelers preseason game at Croke Park in 1997 and taking part in the traditional flag football games his grandfather held at the Ambassador's residence on the Fourth of July during his time serving there.
The Steelers held a press conference in Dublin to speak about their newly granted marketing rights for the island of Ireland through the NFL's 'Global Markets Program'
Also on hand was former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart. Stewart was the starter when the Steelers took on the Bears at Croke Park, completing 7-of-11 passes for 131 yards and giving the Steelers a 10-0 lead after one quarter, before backups came in. The Steelers went on to win the game, 30-17.
The press conference opened with a video highlighting the connection between the Steelers, the Rooney family and Ireland, and sharing the warm sentiment the organization has for the area.
"For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ireland is a special place. It's part of us. It's part of our being. We're proud to say it's not only part of our past, but also our future."
Rooney spoke about how the Steelers were built, from the time his great grandfather and Steelers founder, Art Rooney Sr., took the team to the top through hard work and grit, to what his grandfather then accomplished following in his footsteps and beyond, on the football field and in the global community.
"This blue collar approach my great grandfather started, was carried on by my grandfather, Dan Rooney, who many in this room remember fondly today," said Rooney. "Ireland was a significant part of my grandfather's life in particular. The pride he held for his Irish heritage led him to co-found The Ireland Funds. My family and the Steelers organization still continue to support the Funds and the pillars they stand for…peace, culture and charity.
"My grandfather's career was highlighted by six Super Bowls, and like his father, an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, an achievement that stands up there right up with those was his time serving as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. This great honor, bestowed upon him by President Barack Obama, presented him with a unique opportunity later in life to spend more time in Ireland and get to know its people better, all across the island. He proudly set and fulfilled a goal to become the first ambassador to visit all 32 counties. His time as Ambassador also allowed him to extend the game he loves so much, American football, to the people of Ireland. I was fortunate enough to play in one of the flag games that was held by my grandfather on the Fourth of July. I was also in attendance for the Steelers game held here at Croke Park in 1997. We got to watch Kordell, Jerome Bettis and the rest of the 1997 Steelers take home a Waterford Crystal trophy that my grandmother happened to find quite beautiful. She mentioned that to my grandfather leading up to the game and as our head coach at the time Bill Cowher remembers, put some pressure on the team to get that crystal back to Pittsburgh. I am proud to say that piece still sits in our facility, just down from the Lombardi Trophies.
"When the opportunity arose for NFL teams to become more active in countries outside of the U.S., the Steelers could not have been more excited to re-establish the traditions my grandfather so proudly established here in Ireland, as well as bring new ones. There are people here in this room today who have played an important role for my family and our place here in Ireland over the years. We look forward to working with you and many more friends in years to come. We look forward to engaging Ireland with our fans across the island, those that are already members of Steelers Nation, twirling their Terrible Towels, or new fans that will learn about the Steelers through the events and initiatives we plan to bring.
"Ireland is a place that is important to my family. Go Steelers."
Holding with the tradition of his grandfather, Rooney said the plan is to bring the Steelers brand to all 32 counties in Ireland, making sure they have boots on the ground in the country to continue to build Steelers Nation in a variety of manners.
"As if we were back in Pittsburgh, we can do sponsorship deals, we can market, we can build fan engagement, we can host live events and we can do media deals," said Rooney. "It's a unique opportunity that not only allows us to commercialize but really grow our sport and our brand.
"The first focus is to bring the Steelers to the people of Ireland. We are going to try and reach all 32 counties. Our aspirations long-term are to play a game in Ireland. As we move through the process, we'll be evaluating all options."
Rooney compared what could happen for Ireland to what the team has done in Mexico since they were awarded rights there, hosting watch parties with Steelers alumni, fan camps and clinics and other events. Bringing what they have done in Mexico to Ireland is just a natural connection.
"Even before the program launched last year, we played a game in Ireland in 1997," said Rooney. "We felt the connection and we wanted to promote our game. Ireland was hot on the list for us due to the story we have to tell. The Irish connection is huge. We feel like coming into a country that is less crowded, we can be Ireland's team and that is attractive to us. The opportunity we have here is different from other countries and we feel it is authentic. It's not something we are trying to force. It's something we want to do.
"I believe it's a unique opportunity for an international club to come in and partner with the strong youth base that exists here. We keep hearing that Irish is sports mad and we are adding football to the equation."
In addition to the collection of Steelers personnel, dignitaries and those intertwined with football abroad spoke about the strong bond the Steelers and Ireland already share, and how that bond will continue to grow with the new endeavors that can now be planned.
"The Rooneys are one of the original families of the NFL, of the dynasty of the NFL" said Larry McCarthy, President of the Gaelic Athletic Association. "We're delighted to be associated with them and such a famous name and brand in the Steelers as well. The Rooney family's contribution to Ireland has been significant. Not just in the context of having Ambassador Rooney here for a number of years, but also way back in 1976 Tony O'Reilly and Ambassador Rooney created The Ireland Fund, which contributed very significantly to community, prosperity and to peace on this island. We are thrilled with that and grateful for that contribution.
"Dan Rooney was also the person who introduced the Rooney Rule, which essentially opened up the coaching ranks to people who might have been excluded from it in a lot of well. That ties in well with the philosophy of the GAA, all mantras is where we all belong. The Rooney Rule, philosophically there is a coming together of minds here in terms of the of the Pittsburgh Steelers ethos and the GAA ethos, and long may that continue.
"We look to further deepen our relationship in a business sense and on a personal sense, and a philosophical sense as well. We're looking forward to working with all of you for many years."
With Terrible Towels, both gold and green, dotting every seat at the press conference, the passion for the Steelers presence in Ireland couldn't be greater.
Through the 'Global Market Program' the Steelers have the ability to bring back traditions started by Dan Rooney and create new ones for today's fan base, many of which will be shared on the team's new social media account, @SteelersIreland, on Twitter and Instagram. There are short and long-term plans, one of the long-term plans is to return to the island to play a game.
"I would like to say how delighted we are to be here present in Dublin on this really special launch day," said Brett Gosper, Head of NFL Europe & UK. "It's special for the Rooney family, it's special for the Steelers, and it's really special for the NFL.
"It's important for me to convey that NFL ownership and the commissioner really do have a strong commitment and ambition to continue connecting with and growing our fan base internationally. It is to ensure we continue to be a global sports property. We are also very aware of the strong passion that exists in Ireland for American football and the NFL. That passion we know the Steelers are going to help grow over the coming years.
"It's one thing to be an NFL fan, but when you become a fan of a club, we know that love, that connection, that engagement deepens and is far more important. That is why it's so important clubs like the Steelers are stepping up and engaging with the fan base internationally. It's a really important part of the global strategy. It would be really hard, if possible at all, to find a more natural and authentic fit than the Steelers doing this in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are so many connections. The family's heritage. The Steelers organizing that first and only game in Ireland. And the philanthropy of The Ireland Funds. The enhanced presence across this sports mad island of Ireland is another example of the family's commitment to Ireland."
As part of the program the Steelers can hold in-person events in Ireland, including fan and youth football activities. While many things are still in the planning stage, the excitement level for what is to come is high amongst the locals.
"I am still tremendously surprised by the depth of the bonds between the United States and Ireland," said Mike Clausen, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Ireland. "Including the number of Irish people I have met who have a favorite American football team.
"A love of sport is one of the many things that tie us together."
ABOUT THE NFL 'GLOBAL MARKETS PROGRAM'
The 'Global Markets Program', which launched in January 2022, grants NFL clubs access to international markets for marketing, fan engagement and commercialization activations as part of an important, long-term strategic effort to enable clubs to build their brands globally while driving NFL fan growth beyond the US.
NFL clubs can apply for rights to selected international markets by submitting proposals for the International Committee to review each spring. Clubs are awarded rights for at least a five-year term through the program. During this period, a club has the rights to pursue activities in that international market that are consistent with what they can do in their home market.