Sunday 23 October 2016

Ireland aiming to become European headquarters of college football

Aer Lingus Classic set to build on previous success as Boston College and Georgia Tech kick off in Dublin next September

Published 28/11/2015 | 02:30

The Bobby Dodd Stadium home of Georgia Tech who will face Boston College in the 2016 Aer Lingus College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium next September
The Bobby Dodd Stadium home of Georgia Tech who will face Boston College in the 2016 Aer Lingus College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium next September

This time it's about much 'more than a game', according to Padraic O'Kane who is the event organiser of next year's Aer Lingus College Football Classic.

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It's a tag line that's been adopted on the back of the success of the Emerald Isle Classic which took place in 2012 as well as last year's Croke Park Classic.

Next September, on the same weekend as the All-Ireland hurling final, Dublin will host an American College Football game for the third time in five years.

Boston College and Georgia Tech will clash at the Aviva Stadium in what will be the opening game of the college season and will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Ireland has become a regular host of college football but there are plans in place to make next year's 'event' bigger and better than ever, as O'Kane explains.

"There's a number of key business events planned. The way I would summarise it is, in 2012, to the local economy the benefit was €85m but indirectly that game is still giving because of the connections that were made both from a business and an academic point of view.

"There's not just two football teams travelling to Ireland next year, there's two universities coming with their alumni. A lot of people think that it's just an athletics thing but it's much more than that.

"There's a mixture of eight public and private sector people who are tasked with looking at how we can maximise how we can build relationships, then the game happens as well.

"There's an event programme from the Wednesday to the Sunday that's built around the game but it's only one part of it.

"I suppose that idea came from 'tailgating' which is very common in the States. They do alumni over there better than we can spell it. They really stay connected with their university when they finish.

"They're always looking to get fellas back together so on match day days, that goes a long way. They're more than 50 years after graduating and they're still making contacts, networking etc. To allow them to do that in Ireland, with our business and academic community, can't be a bad thing."

An estimated 25,000 people are expected at the Aviva Stadium on September 3 - 20,000 of whom will have travelled from America and thousands more from Europe.

The absence of the Web Summit in Dublin next year has left somewhat of a void and although O'Kane isn't directly looking at the Aer Lingus Classic as a direct replacement for it, he believes that it has the potential to eclipse it.

"Is this a replacement for the Web Summit? A few people have said it to us but we think it's far bigger than that, to be bluntly honest with you," O'Kane insists.

"It has a direct economic effect. People travelling over will fly into Belfast, Shannon and Dublin and they'll take in the tourist side of it.

"They'll also come into the city close to the game. They'll take in business events, academic events, networking events etc.

"We have the opportunity to become the European headquarters of college football and that's what we're focusing on.

"This is going to become a bi-annual event. We have a trophy called the Keogh/Naughton trophy. The idea is to have a game every two years and who knows by 2021, we may even get it to an annual game."

With several different business, academic and networking events to take place in and around the game and with Boston College's close ties to Ireland, O'Kane is confident that the country will reap the rewards both next year and in years to come.

"You can't underestimate the role that TV plays in all of this. This is breakfast game, the first college game of the year," he stresses.

"To put that in perspective, it would be like the first round of the Leinster Championship. You wouldn't have seen a college football game since the previous January so it's your first bit of medicine on the Saturday morning.

"It will be televised into a minimum of 1.4/1.5 million Americans so it's a huge opportunity for Ireland to be selling ourselves.

"The president of Penn State connected really well with the game last year. He was shown quite a good time here. He saw Ireland at its best.

"His comment was as he was departing was that, they missed an opportunity. We were trying to tell that Ireland is the gateway to Europe from an education and business point of view and he realised that and said they would be back within in the decade.

"That is fantastic. Other universities are realising that. We're really putting Ireland and Dublin on the map."

Thanksgiving College Football Ticket Sale - American College Football returns to Ireland next September 3 with Boston College taking on Georgia Tech in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic at the Aviva Stadium. To celebrate Thanksgiving weekend, a special flash sale is taking place until midnight tomorrow. This is the only chance before Christmas that fans will have the chance to get their hands on the much-coveted tickets for what is set to be another great show with marching bands, tailgate parties, cheerleaders and a top-class game. To purchase tickets visit

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