When the Pittsburgh Steelers play at home, the scene might be only slightly less subtle than Mardi Gras in New Orleans or St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, or what Las Vegas looked like recently leading up to Super Bowl LVIII.
Flags drape homes and more than a few cars as fans walk around in black and gold jerseys whether they are headed to the game or just to the grocery store for game-day snacks.
The ritual of football has for decades dictated the city’s social life, traffic, wardrobes, Monday morning office conversation and even the hours of worship — church could never overlap with kickoff time.
The enthusiasm does not go unnoticed by economic development types.
Spending during home games last season totaled nearly $180 million, according to VisitPITTSBURGH, which promotes tourism and convention business in the city.
“There’s a reason Pittsburgh has been dubbed the ‘City of Champions’ for decades, and we’re fortunate to have so many incredible sports teams, events, and arenas to cater to sports enthusiasts across the country and around the world,” said Jerad Bachar, the organization’s president.
Fans all over
The winner of six Super Bowls — tied for most in National Football League history — the Steelers have been a marquee team for more than five decades since the iconic “Immaculate Reception” in 1972, which the NFL has deemed the greatest play in its history.
The team’s far-flung fans, many of them Pittsburgh expatriates, have spawned Steelers bars across the U.S. from Arizona to Atlanta.
According to VisitPITTSBURGH, spending during Steelers home games last season totaled nearly $180 million. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)
And it’s not far-fetched to stumble into a bar in Costa Rica or Germany with a Steelers game on television with fans more focused on the game than on dinner. A Mexican embassy official in Washington said the Steelers are the most popular team among football fans south of the border.
The Dallas Cowboys are a close second, he said.
Last year, the franchise was awarded international marketing rights to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by the NFL to build on its Irish fanbase. The team’s ties to the Emerald Isle date back even beyond the 1997 preseason game they played there; the Rooney family that owns the team has roots in County Down and the late Dan Rooney served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2009-12.
Team boosts local economy
It’s no surprise that this enthusiasm is good for business, as those in the transportation and hospitality businesses know. The buzz and celebration that surround home football games translate directly into the region’s economic bottom line.
The annual tourism industry in Allegheny County is valued at about $6.5 billion, according to VisitPITTSBURGH.
“The Steelers play an important role across our sports sector. Every autumn, Pittsburgh comes alive with Terrible Towels and fans,” Bachar said.
This past season, visitors to Pittsburgh spent an average of $21.52 million each game weekend. Over a season, that’s about $172 million.
Fans who live in the area spend a total of about a half million dollars during each home game, making total game-related spending $22.13 million per game and just over $177 million for the season.
About 20 million people visit the Pittsburgh region each year — not just for the Steelers but also for professional hockey and baseball games as well as for arts, culture and a restaurant scene that has attracted national attention.
The prominence of sports teams helps attract other major sports events. Pittsburgh has hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic, a popular New Year’s Day feature game played outdoors, as well as portions of the NCAA’s college sports tournaments March Madness and Frozen Four.
The Steelers are hoping the team’s popularity, and the city’s devotion to the sport, will convince the league to let them host the NFL Draft in either 2026 or 2027.
“Pittsburgh would be an attractive site, as would other sites around the country,” said Brian McCarthy, the league’s chief spokesman. “There is intense competition to host one of the most anticipated non-playing events of the year.”
McCarthy said NFL teams were informed this May, when Green Bay was awarded the draft for 2025, that bidding could be done for subsequent years. Detroit hosts the draft this year.
Hosting the NFL Draft packs an economic punch.
Last year, Kansas City hosted the 2023 NFL Draft, and the event exceeded expectations when it came to its economic impact. According to Forbes, 312,000 people attended the event, which generated an estimated $164.3 million for Kansas City.