College Football Classic could spell big business for Ireland

The Aer Lingus College Football Classic promises to bring much more than a game to Irish shores

BY Adrian Collins 14:39 Friday 2 September 2016, 14:39 2 Sep 2016

As the College Football Classic approaches this weekend, Dublin is expecting an influx of visitors from Boston and Georgia who are travelling to support their teams. 

As the tagline of the event declares, there truly is "much more than a game" coming to town, with a slate of pep rallies, high school games and symposiums – amongst other things – planned for fans who are visiting and those already here in Ireland across the weekend.

Speaking to, Padraic O'Kane, one of the organisers of the project, highlighted just how important that element is in not only garnering interest at home, but also with intrigued teams in the United States.

"What we've learned is that college football is more than football," said O'Kane. "It's a multi-billion dollar industry.

"The amount of networking they do beforehand between tailgating, getting alumni back together and bringing business together; that's one of the key things we've brought to Dublin." 

Image: A general view of high school teams playing football. ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Aside from the usual fanfare that accompanies a game like this, there have also been events that tie together the academic, public and private sectors. Trinity played host to a symposium for academics attended by business students and faculty from both universities, while events planned with the American Chamber of Commerce and IDA Ireland have brought nearly 400 of the world's top CEOs, including Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola, to Dublin. 

As O'Kane notes, that building of bridges between Ireland and America has a huge impact on the economy, both directly and indirectly.

"After Notre Dame in 2012, we did some calculations, and that was all worth about €85 million to the Irish economy," said O'Kane. "But indirectly, that 2012 game is still giving. What I mean by that is that the business relationships, the connections that were made during that week are still contributing today. Notre Dame last week just opened up their second faculty in Kylemore Abbey in Galway, and a discussion to make that happen took place during the 2012 game. That's going to be a great economic benefit to the area in Connemara.

"It's the same this weekend. We estimate that this game will bring around €50 million into the Irish economy, and again, indirectly, even more will come out of that. Directly, these games are worth good money to the Irish economy and very welcome for a sports tourism perspective, but indirectly, they have so much more to give."

Image: Members of the public look on as American Football bands, Cheer Leaders and Football Players parade up O Connell Street in Dublin this afternoon ahead of the College Football Game in Dublin at the weekend.

However, with difficulty in getting support from local and central government, as well as securing sponsorship and funding, there was a point at which it looked as though this game might not go ahead. Having been involved in the previous two events which took place in Dublin, O'Kane stated that everyone put in the extra effort required because "it was just too big of an opportunity to let go." 

It's a costly affair for the organisers to make sure that everything is planned far enough in advance given the way the schedules work with the sport, but also to bring everyone on board to get the most out of the connections that can be established. 

"It was difficult at the start, it was very difficult," explained O'Kane. "In 2014, the game in Croke Park, they had no support by central or local government, and they took that risk themselves. It's hard to get them on board to support things, but it's not all about the money. Yes, we need some contribution but it's more about cooperation on charging for street closures, or help to get the different licensing around big event. That's where we've got their involvement in this.

"To get these two teams here, there's about 320 people in each of the official parties. That's the guts of €1.5 million between charter planes, feeding them, getting the equipment here, and so on. It's a big chunk of money to get two teams on the ground.

"We knew for a game like this, to bring it to Ireland, it needs a certain amount of support and it also needs sponsorship. We went on a sort of roadshow, if you want to call it that. We got the support of Dublin City Council, Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland behind the game, but we were were pushing an open door there to be fair, because of the success of 2012 and 2014, and what games like this are worth to the economy."

Image: Sam Boal/

What brings these teams to Ireland, rather than to say Canada, Mexico or even the United Kingdom, is because of Ireland's unique position both geographically and politically. 

"It's because we're in the gateway of Europe that these companies and universities are attracted to Ireland, and the things that we're looking at for future years, that's very much in mind.

"We have to get university presidents involved. If they get involved and see the benefit of education in Europe, building relationships with American companies over here, building relationships with Irish universities and entering that gateway to Europe, they all of a sudden have a different perspective on the week." 

For the future, there are plans to bring back some teams that have made the journey before, as well as forging some new links in America also. Not only are key relationships built over the course of the weekend, but O'Kane argues that the event offers a unique chance for Ireland to learn and grow.

"It's a fantastic example of collaboration between public and private sector. Should it have been this hard to get people around the table and the game almost being lost? No, but in this particular example, having been around major events I've never seen such a great collaboration between both sides.

"If we can take a pinch of this and bring it into other similar events it will be very good for Ireland."

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