Maria Rodriguez, International Content Manager for the Pittsburgh Steelers

How did you get your start in a career in football?

Sports have been a big part of my family, and it’s something that, to this day, binds us together. I grew up in Honduras, so we mostly got together to watch soccer. It’s always been a part of me. My brother, Luis, played soccer in high school. When I graduated from high school, I came to the United States and went to Texas Christian University, where I had the opportunity to work a Formula One event. They were hiring students, and my friends and I decided to do it just for fun. I immediately fell in love with the environment and the energy. That was the first time I kind of got that spark and knew I wanted to work in sports, but I didn’t have a clear vision of what that looked like.

At that time, TCU had a great football team and it was such an exciting time to be a TCU student. Students had free tickets to every home game, and I took advantage of that. I went to every home game, even when my friends didn’t want to go. That was another time when I realized I wanted to work in sports. One night after a game, I looked to see if TCU’s Athletic department was hiring. They had a few open positions, and within a week, I applied for and accepted an unpaid internship to work spring football and Women’s soccer. That was my very first extended experience working in sports and I did that for about a year.

After my sophomore year, Pittsburgh Steelers executive Omar Khan gave me the opportunity to intern during training camp. I ended up working three summers for the Steelers while in college as a training camp office intern. I went to Latrobe every summer and absolutely loved it. It was so much fun, but I also remember seeing how competitive it was and how tough it was to get into the sports industry. To be honest, I didn’t think I would earn a full-time opportunity with an NFL team, so I didn’t even try after I graduated. After three months of being unemployed after graduation, I heard from the Steelers, who were looking for a Spanish content intern. I wasn’t sure what that opportunity really looked like at the time, but Spanish is my first language. I applied, interviewed and got the internship. I’ve been here ever since.

How has your job expanded since getting hired as an intern to what it is today?

The Steelers knew through social media that they had a big following in Mexico. They had Hosted some football Clinics and done community work in Mexico before my internship in 2017. My role started out as somewhat of a project, finding ways to Engage and connect with our Hispanic — and for the most part, Mexican — fans. There wasn’t clear direction at first, so we started by launching social media accounts in Spanish and creating team-related content on our website, translating articles and things like that. It really expanded from just Spanish to international and from one or two social platforms to around four different platforms in Spanish and seven total international platforms. We found fans were engaging more through social media. Now, it’s no longer just about planning and creating content for these accounts — it’s about engaging with them in person and planning events in their countries in an effort to build relationships with people in our international markets.

I was drawn into the work. It was so exciting to see the growth, and at the same time, we were working with the league and its initiatives with NFL China. Through that program, I worked with an agency to help create unique content for their accounts and engage with fans there. We’ve even brought some fans from China to a game in Pittsburgh. We have looked into tapping into other markets through social media to see where a lot of our fans are located, and we’ve started to Invest in Germany more as we’ve seen more potential there.

It’s natural for me to connect with people from other parts of the world, having lived in Honduras before moving to the United States. We’ve grown so much working with agencies in Mexico, Germany and China, and now with the International Home Marketing Areas program (IHMA), the NFL has grown a lot bigger internationally and we’re doing a lot more in these markets now.

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