It may be 16 months out from the first first down but all of the corporate boxes and a significant majority of corporate hospitality for the 2020 Aer Lingus College Football Classic have already been sold.
Notre Dame and Navy is one of the most storied and traditional of rivalries in College Football and a blockbuster marquee game with which to commence a five year run of games taking place at the Aviva Stadium.
In total it is expected that 35,000 American fans will travel to see the game, providing an enormous boost to tourism and an equally impressive, if a less immediately tangible impact on US Ireland relations.
Earlier this week Chet Gladchuk, the Athletic Director for the United States Naval Academy was in town to shake a few hands and see the lie of the land since he was last here in 2012.
We had the opportunity to sit with him and chat about the game, the history and his own personal connection to Ireland. We were also joined by John Anthony of Anthony travel, the largest student tour organisation in the world and another passionate devotee of spreading the game to Ireland.
SfB: It’s an obvious question but do you have a family connection to Ireland.
CG: Oh year, but sure doesn’t everybody? Mine is a way back but my Grandparents were born in Ireland and travelled to the US for a new life. They came from County Kerry and I’ve yet to get back but we will do that in the next year. I understand the old homestead is still standing so that would be fun to go knock on the door and say hi.
SfB: So sales for the game are doing pretty well. Where are you on the numbers as we stand?
JA: Boxes are all gone, hospitality has some remaining but not a lot. The general tickets are on sale in the US and they are pacing 100 % ahead of where we were at a similar point ahead of the 2012 game. Interest is incredibly strong on all sides.
SfB: Does Navy draw from across Europe?
CG: The US Military is very much a unified force. Wherever we play, whether that be Dallas or Dublin, there is a huge interest from across those who rally to the flag. We will have fans from Italy, from England from all points in between.
But Ireland is special. Some of the most deeply held traditions in the game have an Irish connection, all the way back to great coaches like Frank Leahy and Newt Rockney. It is a special bond so the longtime friendship and connection with Notre Dame, the self-styled ‘Irish’ of College sport really taps into coming here to Dublin.
We have the longest intersectional rivalry in the history of College Football. It goes back to 1942. Notre Dame was having difficulty with enrolments during the war and the Navy set up a branch campus in South Bend Indiana, bringing thousands there in preparation for their going to war.
It’s a partnership steeped in a mutual sense of respect and is one of the first fixtures of the year.
SfB: How big will the travelling audience be?
JA: We will bring in 35,000 for the game. There are very few events that would have people moving on that scale. It’s the largest movement of people from America for a single sports event ever.
College Football is much more fan rather than a corporate based game. People want to be there and will travel to support College Games more than NFL games.
Ireland pitching to go after this side, as opposed to London which has targetted the NFL is pretty smart.
SfB: Is Week Zero important?
It’s a big thing. We went to the NCAA to request that we start one week before the main season. There was some unease but in the end the reach towards international markets and to make it more than just a game meant that it was approved.
We want to make it into a Festival and have people come over aware that this is something special.
We are working on someone pretty special to speak to a business audience, similar to what was done with the CEO of Coca Cola last time out.
SfB: Barack and Michelle Obama would be nice…
CG: He did seem to create a real impression when he came over but he probably has a pretty busy schedule…
SfB: Back to the logistics how tough is it to move that many people?
JA: That focus on more than a game helps. people are coming in advance to see a few places around the country or arriving later and then staying on. Aer Lingus are great as supporters with so many direct flights but people will be coming in on all sorts of airlines.
Aer Lingus will be bringing over the teams and their backroom staff.
SfB: How big is that team?
CG: They will all fly on Aer Lingus. For this game, the expanded group could be as many as 300. The playing staff numbers around 80 and a normal game would have 150 in the party but this is something different.
Most of those who would be involved in a programme, be that on administration, as donors or as friends and associates. Most of our senior military leadership will want to be here as well. It’s a hot ticket.
SfB: We are 16 months out from the game. What’s the process from here.
CG: When we came in 2012 we did a lot on our own. We did a lot with the embassy direct and were involved in pretty much every dimension.
This time around, because of creating the series, John has taken on a lot of that and it’s a lot easier the second time around, for me at least. I’ve been touching base with people with whom we blazed a trail back then, and that is a great part of being back here again.
SfB: How do you find Dublin as a city, being used to ‘rehoming’ this fixture each year.
CG: Honestly Dublin is a match for any city in the US. You get what it takes to host a big event. I knew that when the Aviva Stadium bought their own posts and keep them, there in storage that you had the right commitment to making it work.
It’s a game, with similar packaging around the edges and the media but the spark and the intrigue of doing something far away but with good people is a lot of fun.
SfB: You’ve another season to go before we get you here. Will there be much activity around your games?
CG: Oh yeah. We are promoting Dublin at all of our home games and we will be doing something special this fall for our game at Annapolis this Fall.
SfB: If demand is as strong as it is so far out will it be tempting to pull some allocation back from the domestic sales?
JA: No we will stick to the game plan from 2012. That works and we have to be aware of the need to create and maintain a strong home interest for the games over the following years. Not every game will have the same demand from the US base so we want to have lots of Irish accents in the stands on that last weekend in August 2020.
There is a demand. When tickets went on sale in Dublin back in 2012 they were gone within an hour. It’s a big part of the whole overall experience.
SfB: There’s a big intergenerational sense to this with Grandparents down to the kids.
JA: It’s a family experience with allegiance to the teams and coming to Ireland makes that even more special.
SfB: The NFL is a hidden passion for fans from a lot of sports. We love the games on TV and even more so when they are here. Does that come through in terms of US coverage?
CG: We love to see Irish fans at the games. You have a wonderful sporting heritage and you are willing to enjoy the experience as well as the final score. It’s an important part of the appeal to fans from America that you love what we love.
The game will take place on Saturday, August 29th with a 5 PM throw in and coast to coast coverage across the US. It’s circled in red in our sporting diary.