US college football game scheduled for the Aviva cancelled

Businessman Neil Naughton says five-year game series will still go ahead from 2022

The Irish-based promoters of a series of US college football games scheduled to be played here have confirmed that the game due to take place in the Aviva Stadium in August between the universities of Illinois and Nebraska will not go ahead here due to coronavirus restrictions.

The Aer Lingus Football Classic series, estimated by Grant Thornton to be worth €65 million to the Irish economy for each game, also had its inaugural game, between Notre Dame and Navy, cancelled last year.

The Notre Dame game would have brought 40,000 high-spending US visitors to Dublin while this year’s game would have brought 25,000, the promoters estimated. The organisers are currently cancelling 105,000 hotel bed nights due to the game not taking place in Dublin this year.

Chairman of the steering committee behind the games, Neil Naughton, who is also executive chairman of Glen Dimplex, insists its backers remain committed and that the five-year series will kick off in 2022, virus permitting.

The series is backed by the State via Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland, on top of private funding from the promoters, including Fire restaurateur Padraic O'Kane, and partners such as Grant Thornton and Aer Lingus.

Mr Naughton suggested that Irish American Events, the promoter of the games, is still in talks with the teams that have cancelled, leaving open the possibility that Notre Dame, which has strong Irish links and would bring the biggest crowds, could yet be tempted back to Dublin.

“We are in advanced negotiations with four teams. Other cities recognise the economic benefits of these games so you need a good package to tempt them.”

“It would be my dream to host a Notre Dame home game,” said Mr Naughton, whose family has close links to the college.

He said corporate hospitality around the games could help promote US investment into Ireland. However, Mr Naughton also conceded the series promoters may need to raise “a few million extra” to finance a Notre Dame home game in Dublin.