SBJ/Aug. 4-10, 2014/People and Pop Culture

The Sit-Down: Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Steelers

Third-generation Pittsburgh Steelers owner discusses his game-day focus, the future of the NFL in London and Los Angeles, and some difficult discussions with head coach Mike Tomlin.



W
e certainly consider our history something we always want to build on and is our foundation, so that is the starting point really for everything. … But of course like every business in America, the landscape is changing, the demographics of the country are changing and there is a new sports fan out there, a different generation that expects different things.

You’re constantly trying to improve your facility, constantly trying to bring more ways for the fans to enjoy the game while at the same time not distracting them from the game.

Photo by: RENEE ROSENSTEEL
Fans expect some of the comforts of home at the stadium, particularly great video and great visuals, but by the same token they’re there to watch the game and they don’t want things to get in the way of actually enjoying the atmosphere of the day.

I usually arrive at the stadium around three hours before the game or so and meet with staff and talk to our various people about what is going on and then Jimmy Sacco, our director of stadium operations, and I, we usually walk the building. We catch up with a lot of different people that are working on game day in that walk.

Once the game starts I kind of sit in the booth there and focus on the game. I go out at halftime and say hello to a few people usually, but I’m not very sociable once the game starts.

In the booth with me is my father [Steelers owner and Chairman Dan Rooney] and our general manager, Kevin Colbert, and Omar Khan, our director of football.

We’ve been increasing the number of games that we play in London, and each sort of little step we take has been well-received.

I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that we have to have a team there to be successful. I think that the travel for the teams playing over there is always going to be a challenge and unless somebody brings back the Concord that can get the teams there in two or three hours, I think that is a hurdle I don’t think we’ve figured out how to deal with.

There is an understanding that football can work in L.A., as opposed to London, where we’re still trying to test whether a team can be successful there.

I think we’ll have a team in L.A. At least one, maybe two within 10 years.

I think the league feels like we want to make sure it works this time and obviously we’ve already had two franchises move out of L.A. and whatever we do this time I think we have to get it right.

I think [the new Thursday night package] will be successful, and I think the partnership with CBS is a key to it. I think the talent that they bring to the table both in terms of production as well as on-air talent will make a big difference.

Coaches like to play at 1 o’clock on Sunday. Anything else is a distraction.

It’ll be a little while before there is any more significant change in the regular season in terms of Friday, Saturday and anything like that.

I don’t look at it as something that is going to be, let’s say, a regular rotation that an outdoor Northern Super Bowl will take place, but I do think we’ll see more, and I hope in my lifetime we see one in Pittsburgh.

I think the one thing coming out of our last collective-bargaining agreement that we were very hopeful to get done was the HGH testing, and it’s been a thorn in everybody’s side that we haven’t gotten that done.

The players association has tried to use that issue really to expand the discussion about commissioner discipline, and that is something we feel strongly about. We’ve had a system in our league where we’ve had a strong commissioner for many years now, as long as I can remember, and it’s served us well.

[We] think it might be a good opportunity to add more [playoff] games. Not too many, but I think one more playoff game in the opening round allows fans in a lot of other cities to kind of be alive through the end of the season. I think it’s something that we’re going to take a serious look at.



I think the 18-game season or even the 17-game season is not in the near future. … The truth of the matter is we really haven’t had any discussion, any meaningful discussion, about expanding the regular season since the early days of when we were negotiating this collective-bargaining agreement.

There is no question the league would like to see the Bills stay in Western New York. That doesn’t mean that they can’t continue to have some games played in Canada.

We have mandates from the league, and I’m unfortunately the one that has to convince [coach] Mike [Tomlin] that some days he has to wear a mike. It’s something that he is not very comfortable with, so we have a lot of conversations about it.

I’ve always said, and it really came from [Dan Rooney], that we can’t let the business of football get in the way of the game of football. We have a great game, people love it and we can’t screw up that part of it.

[The Steelers on HBO’s “Hard Knocks”] will happen. It’ll happen sooner or later. Again, it’s something that is part of the world we live in, and I’m not looking forward to the day I have to talk to Coach Tomlin about that, but I’m sure it will happen.

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