Hombres de Acero: Spanish broadcast next for Steelers?

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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
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Hombres de Acero?

The words are lifted from a souvenir T-shirt of the Steelers' trip to Mexico City for an exhibition in August 2000.

Translation: Men of Steel.

Pictured above is a young fan who climbed the security fence inside Azteca Stadium that summer in order to have a Steelers jersey signed.

Talks are under way to add an entirely new Steelers radio broadcast team for next season, only this one won't be heard in Pittsburgh and it won't broadcast in English.

How do you say Double Yoi! in Spanish?

Hoping to tap into the enormous popularity of the Steelers in Mexico and among Hispanic football fans throughout the United States, a father-son broadcast team wants to create a second Steelers radio network in Spanish.

"Pittsburgh is a national team," said Fernando Von Rossum, whose father, Fernando, began broadcasting NFL games 37 years ago. "We're looking at the Hispanic market outside of Pittsburgh. The Steelers, that market, is big in the Hispanic community."

Thirteen other NFL teams have separate Spanish radio broadcasts of their games. Most of those are on small networks that broadcast into the team's own market. A Steelers Spanish broadcast would be unique because it would cover more national territory than local because Pittsburgh has one of the smallest Hispanic communities of any major market in the country.

Only 1.32 percent of Pittsburgh's 334,563 residents are Hispanic, according to the 2000 Census. The Pittsburgh metropolitan market ranks 154th in the United States for Hispanic population. Such smaller Pennsylvania markets as Allentown (87th), Reading (113), Lancaster (131) and Harrisburg (147) rank higher. Philadelphia ranks 30th.

"Even though there's a small Hispanic community in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are very popular in Mexico. Very popular," said Will Wilson, the managing director of NFL-Mexico in Mexico City.

The Von Rossums took advantage of that popularity last season when they broadcast half of the Steelers' games into Mexico on their network, ACIR, the dominant carrier of NFL games in that country. Now, they want to expand their coverage by negotiating for the Spanish-language U.S. rights with the Steelers -- Hombres de Acero, or Men of Steel, in Spanish -- and to broadcast in both countries. The ACIR network reaches 85 percent of the population in Mexico. If successful, the Steelers Spanish broadcast would have the potential to reach more fans than any other NFL team's radio broadcasts on a seasonal basis.

"If we have one station each in Texas, California, Florida, New York-New Jersey and maybe in Illinois, I think that would be a successful coverage for us," the younger Von Rossum said.

Steelers president Art Rooney II is enthused by the idea of having his team's games broadcast to its Hispanic fans internationally. The club plans to add a Spanish-language page to its Web site soon.

The popularity of the Steelers in Mexico took root when NFL games were first broadcast south of the U.S. border in the 1970s.

"We started agreements with [Mexican] TV in the '70s, right around the time the Steelers became popular by winning all those Super Bowls," said Pete Abitante, the NFL's senior director of international public affairs. "At first, you had to wonder why the Steelers and Dolphins were so popular there. But it really goes back to that time."

The elder Rossum, a native of Monteray, Mexico, estimated that 70 percent of football fans in Mexico favor the Steelers. The NFL's Wilson placed the Steelers among the top three fan favorites in that country.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Joey porter signs autographs for fans on the other side of the security fence inside Azteca Stadium during the Steelers' trip to Mexico City for an exhibition game in 2000.
Click photo for larger image.
Fernando Von Rossum, left, and and son Fernando Jr. would be the Spanish version of Bill and Myron on Steelers Sundays in Mexico. The elder Von Rossum has done NFL games for 37 years.
Click photo for larger image.

"It's surprising it has lasted this long and has grown as much," Rooney said. "I always heard we had a lot of fans in Mexico, but it didn't hit home until we played that game in Mexico City a few years ago. I was surprised at the enthusiasm. In some ways, it was like playing a home game."

The Steelers played the Indianapolis Colts in an American Bowl preseason game Aug. 19, 2000, in Mexico City. An estimated 90 percent of the 87,145 in attendance were Steelers fans, most twirling Terrible Towels and dressed in black and gold.

"It was unequivocally a Steelers' stadium," Wilson said.

The NFL continues to grow in popularity in Mexico, Wilson said. TV Azteca carries a national game on Sunday and Televisa carries the Monday night games. In addition, pay-TV has games on ESPN and Fox, fans can subscribe to the NFL's Sunday Ticket and the league is preparing to launch the NFL Network into Mexico soon.

Besides the Von Rossums' ACIR network, Radio Imagen carries a Sunday game and Estavio W broadcasts Monday night games on radio. The Von Rossums hope to expand their Sunday broadcasts of noon games to other times as well, which would permit them to carry most of the Steelers' games in Mexico as well as broadcast them on their planned network in the United States.

"We talked to the Steelers and we're very, very excited," the younger Von Rossum said. "The Steelers and Cowboys are the one-two teams in Mexico. Right now, the Steelers are doing so good, they have the No. 1 followers.

"In Pittsburgh, there are not many Hispanics, but nationally there are a lot of [Hispanic] fans in Texas, California and Florida."

How would venerable Steelers analyst Myron Cope, who some say broadcasts in English, feel about having another radio team carry Steelers games?

"I'll tell ya, they're going to have to learn my language," Cope said. "They're going to have to translate yoi! or double yoi! or triple yoi! or okle-dokle."

No English-Spanish dictionary can help with that.


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