American football: Dublin welcomes largest number of Americans to travel abroad for sporting event

Notre Dame and US Naval Academy fans filling capital expected to spend €147 million around Saturday’s match

Of the more than 40,000 fans who have travelled to Dublin ahead of Saturday night’s college football match between Notre Dame and the US Naval Academy, more than 39,000 have come from the United States, and 32,000 will be cheering on the “Fighting Irish”.

Among them are Notre Dame fans Gunner Garner and Nicholas Azar, who are based in Tennessee and graduated from the Catholic university in 2019. They are semi-regular visitors to Ireland, and had been looking to travelling for a match ever since plans for Notre Dame to play in Dublin in 2020 were halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’ve just always loved Ireland, Irish culture and history,” Garner says. “I love the people, the music, the authors, everything about it. I came here five years ago, also through the university. In my senior year, I did a 12-day culture immersion trip over in Connemara.”

College Football Ireland says the crowd building in Dublin for the event is the largest number of Americans to travel abroad for a sporting event in history. The organising body forecasts that the influx will contribute some €147 million to the Irish economy and it is aiming to make Dublin “the home of college football outside of the US”.


The size of the travelling support means that most of the 49,100 tickets sold for the Aviva Stadium clash have gone to visitors, with fewer than 10,000 Irish-based fans due to attend. The game is being broadcast on Sky Sports on this side of the Atlantic, and College Football Ireland estimates an audience of four million will tune in to NBC’s coverage in the US.

Azar said he wanted his experience during this latest Irish visit to be “more authentic”. He and Garner landed nearly two weeks ago and have since visited Kilkenny, Cork, Dingle and Galway.

“I’ve been here several times and we didn’t want to go to Killarney because we hear it’s very touristy,” he says. “Galway was very touristy. By the time we got to Galway, it was full of Notre Dame people. Besides this [he points to Garner’s Notre Dame hoodie], we’re trying to blend in. Hopefully we’re not too obnoxious!”

To mark the occasion, the American Navy vessel USS Mesa Verde has docked in Dublin for the weekend. Crew members will be among the 8,000 Navy supporters expected at the game.

Tianni Brown and Novelette Wallace, from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, came to see Brandon Chatman, a sophomore on the Navy team, who happens to be their son and stepson respectively, take the field.

“We travel anywhere to watch him play,” says Wallace.

When asked how they have found the prices in Dublin, the pair say they have noticed little difference from their hometown. “I’m from the US so I thought it was more reasonable, the drinks are a good price for a tourist area,” says Wallace. “The prices are great and the service has been wonderful.”

“The Fort Lauderdale-Miami area is very expensive,” adds Brown.

Saturday’s game will be the eighth college football match to be played in Dublin since 1988, and the third between Notre Dame and Navy. Nebraska and Northwestern universities played at the Aviva last year, but the game was not a sell-out.

However, Notre Dame, based in South Bend, Indiana, has historic Irish links and its supporters were out in force in Dublin city centre on Friday. Events related to Saturday’s match will see a number of road closures, with Dame Street and College Green closed to traffic between 8pm on Friday and 10pm on Saturday in order to facilitate the pre-match tradition of tailgating (pre-game socialising) for the Notre Dame fans.

Carl and Karen Alexis, from London, were among the Notre Dame fans exploring the city on Friday. Carl also attended the matches between the rivals in Dublin in 1996 and 2012, remembering the Aviva as “a lovely stadium” from his latter visit.

He says he has no connection to Indiana, but “fell in love” with the history of the Notre Dame football programme. “A lot of it has to do with the history, the whole culture of the place,” he adds. “I’m not even Catholic!”

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist