Organizers of the football season-opener in Ireland between Nebraska and Northwestern have a detailed to-do list covering everything from supplying dumbbells, to plastering pubs with marketing materials, and making sure there’s enough steak sauce and other condiments to last a week.
It’s all part of the cost of hosting the Aer Lingus College Football Classic more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic from the home turfs of Lincoln and Evanston, Ill.
The price tag for putting on the game? $ 10 million, said John Anthony, founder and chief executive of Anthony Travel, a division of On Location and the official travel sponsor of the game.
One report in the Irish press put the airfare price tag at about $ 6 million to uproot the two schools and fly them to Dublin. Then, there’s the guarantee to Northwestern, which is the host school, as well as covering Nebraska’s expenses, plus security, social events, and game-day field preparation.
There are mammoth logistical challenges too.
Start with both teams traveling to Dublin with more than 80 players, and an official party of dozens of athletics department coaches, support staff and school administrators – all of whom have to be fed and watered for about a week leading up to the Aug. 27 games.
Then there are plenty of scheduling gymnastics involving practice time for both teams on a field adjacent to the 48,000-seat Aviva Stadium. Weight lifting and conditioning equipment won’t be shipped to Dublin on a Boeing transport, so it must be procured in Ireland.
Organizers also plan to roll out the green carpet for the teams and their fans, with pep rallies, sight-seeing, and marketing campaigns to convert a nation of football and rugby enthusiasts into big-time college football fans.
Marketing has ramped up recently, as cheerleaders from both Nebraska and Northwestern visited Ireland in late April to drum up excitement and ticket sales to the general public in Ireland and Europe. (In Ireland, fyi, cheerleading has experienced a surge in popularity and is now regarded as one of the fastest-growing youth sports in the country.)
The travel, sightseeing, and game-week glamor aside, “we recognize this is a business trip” for the Cornhuskers and Wildcats, said John Anthony, founder and chief executive of Anthony Travel, a division of On Location and the official travel sponsor of the game.
“They are there to play a game and win it,” Anthony said in an interview. “Our job is to do our best to make everything around the game happen and make it a memorable experience.”
More than 18,000 Nebraska and Northwestern fans are expected to travel from the United States to Dublin, while another 5,000 are expected from throughout Europe. The majority will likely be Nebraska fans, who like their Northwestern counterparts, are paying several thousand dollars for the travel and tourism experience, covering airfare, hotel and tour packages, and game tickets.
Anthony would not disclose how many tickets have been sold other than to say “we’re comfortable where we are. Our US sales are good. ”
As for sales in Ireland, he said that after a nice initial surge, sales continue to be steady, with a lot of excitement building around the pageantry and “razzmatazz” of American college football. Some of the leading retailers have joined as partners so that they can promote the game through the summer. ”
The game is expected to generate more than $ 63 million Euros for the Irish economy, sprinkled around restaurants, hotels, pubs, golf courses, taxis, buses, and everything else.
The Big Ten match-up – in week zero before the traditional start of the college football season – is also being broadcast to a US audience of about 3 million. The conference has not yet announced which network will broadcast the game. Remember, there’s a six-hour time difference, but kickoff is expected to fall between the 11 am to 1 pm central time zone slot. Last years Week Zero game was a 12 noon kick central time on FOX.
Ireland tourism officials are hoping the Nebraska game – following the Covid-induced cancellation of a planned 2021 game between the Big Red and Illinois – will serve as a springboard for a series of future Aer Lingus classics. The 2023 game will feature Notre Dame versus Navy.
The stakes are high, especially from other cities internationally that want to bring a college football game to their city, said Brendan Meehan, commercial director of Irish American Events, one of the game organizers.
London, Frankfurt, Dubai, and Sydney “all want college football games for their cities,” Meehan told the Independent, of Dublin. “So, as we’ve said, these games are Ireland’s to lose, but we could lose them… We have to make sure they are a success for everyone involved, for the universities who travel, for the stakeholders both public and private, and for the game organizers. ”
Lots of moving parts
A small army of consultants and other key behind-the-scenes personnel in the steering committee meets regularly to ensure that game-week festivities and the game-day flow smoothly.
Organizers hold at a minimum monthly phone call with each school, and representatives from Nebraska and Northwestern athletic departments, alumni associations, events staff, and development offices have made advance trips to Dublin.
Nebraska had a crew on the ground in Dublin in early May to kick the tires, go over planning details, and visit Aviva Stadium, the team hotel, and practice facilities among other stops.
Making over Aviva Stadium from a soccer pitch to a football field – complete with goalposts, play clocks, and yard markings, for example – is not a big issue given the experience learned from the 2016 Boston College – Georgia Tech game in Dublin.
The biggest challenge is equipment since you “can’t exactly truck the equipment to Ireland,” Anthony said. It will be flown in, and there’s a 15-page template on everything the teams need for the game – uniforms, helmets, shoulder pads, game-day supplies, video equipment, and more.
As for dumbbells and the like, each school submits a list of all the weights they are looking for.
The schools are responsible for handling passport paperwork, and the American embassy is helping to streamline customs and passport lines, Anthony said.
In times past, Nebraska would truck in its food to bowl game destinations. But not this trip. Neither Nebraska nor Northwestern can bring food from home because of customs policies, said Andrew Sims, director of football operations.
Meal preparation will be handled primarily at Nebraska’s team hotel, he said.
Nutritionists and dieticians in Ireland have met with their college counterparts to go over meal and snack planning, including the quantities needed to satisfy mammoth offensive and defensive linemen. The planning includes sample menus and food tasting.
Arrangements are even made for favorite sauces and condiments.
The preparation is similar to any road trip, Sims said, as Nebraska works on menus directly with the host hotel domestically, and even for home games in Lincoln.
Both schools will bring cheerleading squads, mascots, and at least part of their marching bands to participate in pep rallies to hype the pre-game and game atmosphere, said Leslie Wurzberger, senior vice president-sports experiences at On Location.
“The Irish like raz-ma-taz,” she said.
There will also be a pep rally on Friday afternoon in downtown Dublin’s city center district to generate friendly social interaction “between the local people and travelers,” Wurzberger said.
Tailgating? Yes, but Irish style, meaning the pubs.
To create the game-day experience, fans can visit the pubs in Dublin’s downtown, about a mile from the stadium. Some pubs will feature Irish bands, dancers, and pyrotechnics along with Irish delicacies to “infuse culture around a meal,” Wurzberger said.
Officials are also working on transportation plans to shuttle fans from downtown or their hotel to the stadium.
The trip to Dublin, of course, is much more than the game. Luncheons and private parties between boosters and Irish business executives are on the schedule, as are bus tours and a stop at one of Ireland’s biggest attractions, the Guinness beer Storehouse.
“Ireland is excited for the game,” Wurzberger said. “It’s a big celebration.”
Steve Rosen writes about the sports business for HuskerOnline. Reach Steve with questions, comments, and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.