Didja know that the official grocery store, bank and ketchup of the Cleveland Browns are Pittsburgh-based companies?
And the prospective new owner is part-owner of the Steelers?
And have you noticed that you can often find Pittsburgh Steelers products right next to Browns gear at area stores, even though the two teams don’t meet for months?
If you’ve missed all those subtleties on television, radio or at the store, maybe it’s because the old rivalry just isn’t there anymore.
The “last few years at the stadium when the Browns are at Cleveland [playing the Steelers], there’s almost more Steelers fans than Browns since Browns fans have sold their tickets,” said Jim Iona, president of the Akron Browns Backers fan group.
Iona said the rivalry has “mellowed out,” and though the business sponsorships are ironic, he doesn’t think “it’s do or die.”
Long-time Browns fan Bill Hauser, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Akron, hadn’t noticed the Pittsburgh connections until a reporter brought them to his attention.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know that.’ I’m going to guess that most people in Northeast Ohio never made that connection,” Hauser said.
On the other hand, he said, it’s just business.
“I really don’t think it matters. These are all national or regional brands,” said Hauser, who acknowledged that he is “a Browns fan until the playoffs and then I switch to the Steelers.”
Bob Batchelor, an assistant journalism professor at Kent State, comes from a different perspective — he’s from Pennsylvania, and was careful about showing his Steelers colors until he realized it didn’t matter anymore.
“Some would say we have infested other areas,” Batchelor said.
“I think there are die- hards on both sides, but for the most part, everybody’s life is so busy now, I don’t know if people have time in their lives anymore to hold hatred in their city just because of their football team,” said Batchelor, who has written extensively about sports and is co-editing a three-volume anthology on the history of sports in the United States.
When he arrived in Kent three years ago, he was a little worried about wearing his Super Bowl cap.
“I put a Steelers license frame on my car. From the old days, I always assume someone would have destroyed my license plate holder or egged my car. No one says anything,” he said.
Both professors said it makes sense for the companies, wherever they are based, to support the Browns.
Sponsors for both teams Actually, Giant Eagle and PNC sponsor both the Browns and the Steelers. Giant Eagle’s relationship with the Browns began in 1999, and PNC became a sponsor by default in 2009 when it acquired National City Bank. That relationship had been in effect for a decade, and PNC last week extended the sponsorship.
Spokesmen for both companies list the normal reasons a corporation would want to sponsor a team: support of the communities where they do business.
Giant Eagle officials point out that they have more stores in Ohio than in Pennsylvania.
PNC sponsors radio airtime for the games.
“There’s no conspiracy theory” about Pittsburgh-based companies becoming high-profile sponsors, said Jim Ross, Browns senior vice president of business development. He said his staff talks to a lot of regional and national companies about sponsorships. There are about 100 now.
When asked for some of the quirky ones, Ross said ShurTech is the official duct tape, Great Clips is the official hair-cutting salon and Clear Choice Dental Implants is the official dental implant company of the Browns.
As for the question of which team they root for?
“... Yes,” said Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan.