The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long-term vision to play an NFL game on Irish soil, with a fixture at Croke Park an ambition openly held by the American franchise.
The Steelers played the Chicago Bears in a pre-season match at the GAA headquarters back in the summer of 1997.
That contest remains the only NFL clash ever to be played in this country, albeit college football games have been played here since the late 80s. Indeed, tickets for August’s College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium between Notre Dame and Navy have already sold out.
The NFL may follow suit in the next few years after the Steelers had a successful bid to gain the NFL marketing rights for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland through the NFL’s Global Markets Program, which grants clubs access to international markets for commercialisation activations in an effort to build the game’s brand. The Jacksonville Jaguars have also been granted rights in the Republic of Ireland.
The Steelers Director of Business Development and Strategy Daniel Rooney – grandson of Dan, the late Steelers owner and US ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012 – told RTÉ Sport that they have big plans to bring pro football to these shores.
“The NFL has a global markets programme that opened up two years, allowing NFL teams to break into international markets,” said Rooney.
“The Steelers first applied to Mexico a year ago. When the opportunity came up for Ireland, north and south, the entire island, we thought it was a no-brainer. We now have the opportunity to grow our brand in this country, engage with the fans, bring our events here, and some commercial opportunities as well. We’re very excited.”
“We now have the opportunity to grow our brand in Ireland’ – Daniel Rooney, Director of Business Development & Strategy with the @steelers on engaging more with fans in Ireland and the prospects of an @NFL game at Croke Park @Darrenfrehill #rtesport #rtegaa pic.twitter.com/vGY5odGMaE
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) May 25, 2023
When asked about the prospects of an NFL game being played in Ireland, Rooney said: “We take it very seriously. When we apply to an international market that’s always a top goal.
“There is a long-term plan to play in Ireland. A game is a real possibility and we’re looking forward to getting back here for that.
“We can’t predict a timeline on it. There’s a lot of decision makers at hand there, but it’s something we’ll be working on tirelessly. We’re excited.
“We played here in ’97, we have a great relationship with the GAA in Croke Park. It’s a beautiful venue. It looks like an NFL stadium back home. Packing this stadium for a football game would be an exciting day. I could certainly see that happening.”
Reflecting on his own Irish ancestry, Rooney added: “We do have a lot of history here.
“The Rooneys emigrated to the United States from Newry in the 1840s. We played a game in Ireland, in this stadium, in 1997 and we’ve been coming back ever since we moved. I love the country.
“The NFL fan base is global at this point. We’re bringing our sport overseas.”