Friday 17 November 2017

It's all in the game... American football returns to Dublin

American college football returns next year, but there will be more going on off the field with a huge opportunity for Irish firms

Boston College Eagles, who will attract around 20,000 Americans when they arrive in Dublin next year.
Boston College Eagles, who will attract around 20,000 Americans when they arrive in Dublin next year.
Stephen Kavanagh, CEO Aer Lingus, Brad Bates, Boston College Director of Athletics and Glen Dimplex Chairman Neil Naughton, at Boston College's Alumni Stadium.
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

Florida State Quarterback Everett Golson stood back in the shotgun and took the snap. He surveyed the field and, in the face of fierce pressure from the Boston College defence, found his receiver for the touchdown.

The 44,500 seat Boston College Alumni Stadium went quiet, and the ESPN cameras panned across a chastened crowd.

What the cameras didn't see were the businessmen and women in the corporate boxes. This may have been a college event, but it is every bit as important from a business perspective as any of the big international events we get in Ireland.

In short, US college football is very big business, and it's coming back to Dublin next year.

College football has featured in Ireland on and off since the 1980s, but it moved up a gear in 2012 when Notre Dame played Navy in the Aviva Stadium. Two years later Penn State took on the University of Central Florida in Croke Park. And next year Boston College will host Georgia Tech University at the Aviva.

But the 'Aer Lingus College Football Classic' - as the match has been titled - will be about much more than just the game. Around 20,000 Americans are expected to travel to Ireland for the match, and many of them will be big hitters in the business and legal world. Their presence here will be a huge opportunity for Irish companies looking to do business in the US, and vice versa.

Event organiser Padraig O'Kane, of Irish American Events, believes the match will open doors to the US business community, but warns it cannot be wasted.

"Part of bringing a game to Ireland is you have to encourage people from the C-suite to sign on for travel and hospitality packs and once we get them on board we have to do really good events that will work within Ireland and outside it..

"If they come over, they can also bring the board of their companies, and have the board meeting that week in Dublin.

"We have planned a dinner in Dublin with 400 invited guests from business and Government. The idea with that is that American and Irish people from, say, the pharmaceutical sector, sit together and go to the match together.

"Now it's up to both the Irish and Americans if they want to do business, but by getting them into the room together, guys will have opportunities that they could not get otherwise," Mr O'Kane says.

The benefit of an event such as this goes way beyond just the match. The Notre Dame / Navy game is said to have been worth €85m to the economy, but Mr O'Kane is adamant the benefits are still being felt today. Glen Dimplex chairman Neil Naughton agrees.

He is chairing the steering committee for the events around the match and he makes clear that wile there will be cultural and academic initiatives, it is commerce that will be the focus of outside events.

"We are in talks for the Boston College CEO club to hold its monthly meeting in Dublin to coincide with the match, as well as hosting dinners and other business group meetings that will take place here at the same time. These are the meetings that would never take place without the game."

He's right. The CEO club boasts, an array of 'A list' executives, from Uber boss Travis Kalanick to Conoco Phillips chairman and CEO Ryan Lance and everyone in between. If the CEO club has its meeting here, it will be an enormous coup for the organisers.

The match is being sponsored by Aer Lingus and considering the 20,000 travelling from the US to Ireland it's probably a no-brainer that the airline is involved. CEO Stephen Kavanagh doesn't hesitate to admit that, but sees it as a huge opportunity for both Aer Lingus and the wider Irish business community.

"An event like this is good for business for us but it also will forge closer ties in terms of culture and for commerce on both sides of the Atlantic.

"One of the big things for us is that Aer Lingus now offers a jumping-off point to the rest of Europe through our route network, so it is very much in our interest to have our name attached to the game and to have people come over on the back of it," he says.

For the College Football Classic to be a success, it needs 20,000 to sign up to packages such as those available on the event website,

But for the rest of the country, success will likely go much deeper than that. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been fully on board with the event, as have Tourism Ireland and Dublin City Council. While the IDA and Enterprise Ireland have been a little slower to join the party, there is an opportunity for the business community to get in front of potential investors. It is really up to them to take advantage of it.

Irish Independent

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