Business Plus

Taking A Punt On Football

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of college football on the American sports landscape, and the benefits of bringing the game to Ireland are manyfold

- ROB HARTNETT Rob Hartnett is the founder of Sport for Business, a publishing, events and networking business at the heart of the commercial world of Irish sport

The world of US college football is alien to an Irish sporting public that has grown up on sport from elite to grassroots but sees university games as something that have a place in the calendar but not one that would light up the nation.

Across America it does exactly that, with stadia housing over 100,000 sold out for every game, coast-to-coast live television coverage, and stars who while paid nothing to play are laying down a marker to become potential sporting millionair­es playing in the NFL.

In August, Dublin got a vivid taste of what college football means to the fans, close to 20,000 of whom travelled from Nebraska and Chicago to cheer on their teams in the opening game of the season, secured for the next five years to take place in Dublin at the Aviva Stadium.

Their number was doubled in the ground on the day from a curious home crowd. While the viral story of the evening was the tech glitch that meant free beer and pizza for an hour during the game, the lasting impact will run much deeper.

The College Football Classic has been a driving passion of Martin Naughton, of Glen Dimplex fame and fortune, ever since his discovery that Notre Dame University had never played a game of any sort in Ireland.

Friendship­s with luminaries in the US Irish business community, with the likes of Pat Ryan of Aon and one-time ambassador Dan Rooney, smoothed the path of discussion in halls of influence. Consensus was reached that playing games across the Atlantic could be a winner for many interested parties.

Making the idea a reality was going to be expensive, and the Naughton family asked Padraic O’Kane to be the commander in chief of a power play that would deliver so long as all the right moving parts were in place. On his right-hand side was John Anthony of Anthony Travel, who would work with blue chip US colleges to ensure their fans and benefactor­s were given a trip to remember.

Relationsh­ips were created with tourism officials and at the highest levels of government in Ireland. Taoisigh will go to games of many descriptio­ns but rarely will they be on speed dial for pre-game testimonia­ls or the luncheon in the Mansion House which precedes the game and is as wealthy and influentia­l a gathering as you are likely to see this side of Washington DC.

Pre-Covid, the guest of honour was Muhtar Kent, president of the CocaCola Corporatio­n. This year it was Gwynne Shotwell, who fills the same position at Space X. Serious players.

Aer Lingus came on board as very invested partners at just the time they were making the United States their main play. Talk to any taxi driver after the weekend and they all had a story of collecting fans and their families at the airport and bringing them to Adare Manor, Ashford or Dromoland Castle, because those were the closest available super luxury hotels they could get to Dublin.

Golf courses from Ballybunio­n in Kerry to Ballyliffi­n at the other end of the Wild Atlantic Way were crammed with US golfers. And the beauty is that this was only the first of what will be a five-year bonanza.

Next year it is the big one between Notre Dame and Navy, the marquee game that was scheduled to kick off the series in 2020 but got pushed back because of Covid. That will bring 30,000-plus fans in its wake, as well as more business, more value and more of pretty much everything.

The series tagline is ‘More than a Game’ and that’s what it proves to be. As an example of government and its agencies working hand in glove with promoters and corporate partners towards a positive common purpose, it could be a case study at the Harvard Business School.

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 ?? ?? Nebraska Cornhusker­s fans got to know Temple Bar ahead of the big match
Nebraska Cornhusker­s fans got to know Temple Bar ahead of the big match

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