The last Pittsburgh Steelers home game at Heinz Field was the Monday Night Football contest vs. the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 of the 2021 regular season.
Was that also the last game played at Heinz Field?
No, the Steelers aren’t going anywhere, as it pertains to the venue, but the name Heinz Field certainly could be changing in 2022.
Before looking ahead, we have to look back and see what has happened with the naming rights for the stadium since it officially opened in 2001. The then H.J. Heinz Co., now Kraft Heinz after a 2015 merger, signed an incredible 20-year naming rights deal which put Heinz on the front and center of the stadium for all to see. With the stadium housing not just the Steelers, but also the University of Pittsburgh and many other events, the 20-year contract seemed like a steal of a deal.
However, entering 2021 the two parties were able to come to terms on nothing more than a one-year extension for the naming rights of the stadium.
“We have enjoyed a tremendous and beneficial partnership with The Kraft Heinz Co. since Heinz Field opened in 2001,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a news release.
“Over the years, the partnership has been a win-win for the Steelers — one of the NFL’s most storied and popular teams — and for Kraft Heinz,” company CEO Miguel Patricio said in a statement. “Both the Steelers and the Heinz brand are synonymous with Pittsburgh.”
While those statements are all well and good, the deal was only for one season, meaning in 2022 the naming rights will be up for the highest bidder.
Terry Lefton of the Sports Business Journal did some digging on the inner workings of the odd one-year contract in 2021, and here is what he was able to find:
“The company [Kraft Heinz] moved some of its headquarters from the Steel City to Chicago after the merger, so the hometown play, normally one of the most important factors in any naming-rights deal, wasn’t as compelling as when the stadium opened in 2001. Factor in also that in the time of COVID few, if any, companies will pay more for any marketing assets, much less a used one — even one glossy with NFL patina. Sure enough, industry sources tell us Kraft Heinz would renew only if the deal was flat and is now paying around the same $4 million as the last year of the original deal.
“The Steelers had started by asking potential sponsors what averaged out to $10 million per annum for a long-term deal with those rights. Want an indicator of how listless the market is: Are you paying the same rate for anything you bought two decades ago? Didn’t think so. Moreover, we’re told that Kraft Heinz’s plans for further activating those naming rights are about the same as their plans for the remainder of this year’s playoffs. One real benefit: the short-term deal allows the team to wait for a market correction. Still, “if stadium pricing stays flat, you could see them there for three more years,” said a party with knowledge of the deal, speculating about the length.”
What does all this mean? It means there is a chance the Steelers will be playing in a venue with a different name starting next season. It will be weird, to say the least, but unless the Steelers don’t get a great offer from some other company, and Heinz gets the naming rights at a discount, expect a new company to take over.
It was reported U.S. Steel was close to a deal for the naming rights prior to 2021, but the deal fell through. Could they try again? Or could some other company decided to pump millions of dollars into having their name and logo on the outside of the venue?
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, and more, surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for what could be a very exciting offseason.