Notre Dame v Navy
IT IS a long way to travel for a game of football that lasts just a few hours. Nevertheless more than 35,000 avid fans of American college football have crossed the Atlantic this week to watch two teams play their national game in an unfamiliar setting – Dublin’s Aviva stadium. Rarely in sporting history have so many travelled so far for a sports event, complete with marching bands and cheerleaders.
This mass mobilisation of American football fans has been undertaken to support their teams, Notre Dame and Navy, at tomorrow’s game; but most will stay for a week, and travel throughout Ireland. The arrival of so many gives tourism revenues a timely boost, with visitors expected to spend more than €100 million during their stay. It is also a generous display of Irish American solidarity – as measured by the large numbers that have made the journey – in difficult economic times.
For Ireland as host, this remarkable American invasion also presents a great opportunity to sell the country’s attractions to its guests, and to the many millions in the US who will watch the game on television. The numerous conferences, dinners and social events arranged for the week give Irish business leaders and others – such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland – direct access to a captive audience of some of Irish America’s corporate elite. And with so many Notre Dame supporters of Irish extraction here, this is an opportunity to develop closer and more meaningful ties with Irish America. The success of this remarkable event owes much to the vision of two men who have worked over many years to develop closer ties between Ireland and the US: Martin Naughton, chairman of the Glen Dimplex group and one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, and Irish-American Donald Keough, a Coca Cola board member, Notre Dame graduate and a long-standing friend of Ireland.
The arrival of so many US visitors for such a colourful event has provided Tourism Ireland with an early opportunity to introduce its major tourism initiative for 2013, “The Gathering”. The plan is for a year-long celebration of homecoming with an emphasis on local festivals and special events to encourage some among the Irish diaspora – an estimated 70 million people claim Irish ancestry – to pay a visit.
The 35,000 who have come this week for a special sports event are, hopefully, harbingers of the arrival of many more visitors next year to discover, or rediscover, what Ireland has to offer.