At the end of October, I released one of my favorite podcast episodes to date. Entitled “Terrible Towel Goes Global,” I spoke with Maria Jose (MJ) Rodriguez about her role as the International Content Manager for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was enamored with MJ’s journey into U.S. higher education and could not stop thinking about how important international content directly supports organization’s internationalization strategy. After releasing the episode, I flew to Chicago to be recognized at Diversity Abroad’s gala before embarking on a world tour visiting Paris, London, and Casablanca.
While in Paris, I got the invite of a lifetime – literally. I was invited to attend the “En Casa con Los Steelers” event in Pittsburgh, PA. The night before the Steelers Thursday night game against the Patriot, fans would have the opportunity to visit the Steelers Hall of Honor Museum, hang out with a Steelers legend, and kick it with the Steelers in Spanish announcers. But these weren’t just any fans… THESE WERE FANS FROM MEXICO.
THEY TRAVELED THOUSANDS OF MILES TO CHEER ON THEIR NFL TEAM IN PITTSBURGH.
You know I had to pull up. After interviewing MJ and receiving this invite, I HAD to see this in person for myself.
I packed my bag and drove 277 miles on Wednesday, December 6 to attend the event the night before the Steelers Thursday Night Football (TNF) game. I walked in to Club UPMC at Acrisure Stadium and immediately saw 150 Mexican fans donned in Black and Gold. Their joy was visible and their energy was palpable. I listened in on casual Spanish conversations, eager to jump in and practice what I’ve been learning in DuoLingo. I waited until every Steelers fan snapped a picture with Joey Porter before I jumped in and took a picture with him myself. MJ and her team did a phenomenal job creating an experience that reflected the Steelers identity, inclusive of Mexican culture. One of, if not the only, non-native Spanish speakers in the room – I felt like I belonged.
There was a Los Steelers tailgate outside Acrisure Stadium prior to Thursday Night Football. After walking around for literally hours, I could not find the location but did run into a tailgate that was a lot of fun (IYKYK). While at this random tailgate, two Steelers fans questioned where I was from because I was not wearing any Steelers gear. At that point, I had to confess I was from Cincinnati (WHO DEY!) and was at the game because a Steelers home game was a bucket list item for me. I asked these fans where they were from, their response:
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
My educator-entrepreneur brain could not process this information fast enough. Mexican fans, Canadian fans tailgating in Pittsburgh, PA for the Steelers?! Instead, I drank another beer with my brothers, made my way into the stadium before kickoff, and enjoyed my time cheering “Here We Go, Steelers” for the first time in my life.
On the drive home, I began to process what I heard, what I saw, and how I wanted to continue learning more about relationship between internationalization and athletics. Below I share three takeaways for us to consider and remember right now:
Do not sleep on Mexico. I know, I know. The London Games, The Frankfurt Games – it’s easy to get caught up in what is happening in Europe. I am at fault too. However, Mexico is the largest international market for the National Football League (NFL). Mexico is also the site that hosted the first NFL regular season international competition. The Arizona Cardinals competed against the San Francisco 49ers on October 2, 2005 in Mexico City, a game that is more popularly known as NFL Fútbol Americano. More than 100,00 fans were in attendance at Estadio Azteca, making NFL Fútbol Americano the largest crowd to watch a regular season game in NFL history. This competition spurred the NFL International Series, the series we all celebrate today.
But Mexico is important for more than its history. Regios De Acero is the premier Steelers fan club in Monterrey, Mexico. Alongside the Los Steelers Instagram account, Regios De Acero is pivotal in helping to grow the Steelers brand across Meixco. The fan club hosts watch parties for every Steelers event, including competitions and the NFL Draft. This group was very present in Pittsburgh and hosted the tailgate that I could not find. This group also put me on to new information about the Houston Texans and NFL Mexico that I couldn’t wait to share with y’all.
In late June 2023, the Texans and NFL Mexico in partnership with Tec de Monterrey announced the inception of the Mexican College Football Showcase. Tec De Monterrey would take their “Clásico de Regio” matchup against the Universidad Autó de Nuevo León to the NRG Stadium in Houston. Texas President Greg Grissom said, "This partnership presents an exciting opportunity to establish an international network for college football and grow the game on a global level while offering passionate local fans the chance to enjoy the best rivalry in Mexican college football right here in Houston."
WOW! I bet you didn't know about this either.
Trust me, I am going to be coming back to this one, very soon.
Let's keep walking.
Sports Diplomacy. Sports diplomacy “refers to the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits.” Earlier, I shared that I felt like I belonged in this Spanish speaking, Mexican fan catered space. MJ and her team certainly did their best job in curating environment conducive to knowledge sharing and fan appreciation. Yet still, I am not fluent in Spanish nor am I Steelers. But what I did share in common with these fans was my love for American football – American football is what brought us together and kept us close throuhgout the two days.
I am curious to see how Steelers international engagement evolves over the years.
Is there opportunity to invite local Pittsburghers (native Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers) to the event?
How can Steelers athletes and legends be physically present in Mexican cities in the off-season to cultivate peple-to-people connections aligned with the Sport Diplomacy division’s goals?
How can the Steelers organization facilitate two-way exchanges with fans from the United States and Mexico to promote cross culturalism, mutual understanding, and equity in sports?
As a sport diplomat who has served in Brazil and Morocco, I’ve witnessed firsthand how sport can unite communities. I believe NFL franchises like Steelers can scale these experiences in ways the United States has never seen before.
Content, content, content. MJ is the International Content Manager and thus, leads the Steelers international content strategy in their respective markets. Currently, the Steelers have international home marketing rights in Mexico, United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland. As you can imagine, this is a lot of work. Fortunately, MJ has a team – including a staff member who resides in Mexico and manages the “Los Steelers” Instagram account. Follow the account! :)
Los Steelers is the Official Pittsburgh Steelers account in Spanish. Captions are in Spanish, graphics are in Spanish, interactive Instagram stickers are in Spanish. The presence of this account reflects the Steelers commitment to inclusive excellence. The activity on the account is dynamic and interactive. As a progressing Spanish language learner, I am especially appreciative Los Steelers is beginning to include Spanish subtitles on reels and videos. Music and television have been credited to helping English language learners become fluent. Sport organizations who utilize Spanish subtitles can also be a medium for people like me to become Spanish fluent. As sport organizations continue to advance their internationalization plans, inclusive language in content creation must become a priority.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to attend the En Casa con Los Steelers event. I cannot speak more highly of the work that MJ, her team, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing to ensure that equity is at the core of their internationalization plan. If you have not already, click here to watch our podcast interview with MJ. You may also listen to the episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. This interview was conducted in English. Part II will be in Spanish.
Esa es mi promesa.
#HereWeGo - Esta pasando. Estamos caminando!