Croke Park bid to host lucrative NFL game


AMERICAN FOOTBALL:CROKE PARK faces competition from four major European cities – London, Munich, Frankfurt and Edinburgh – to host an NFL regular season game in the next 18 months.

Tentative enquiries have taken place since January this year but an NFL delegation arrives in Dublin tomorrow, where they will be greeted by the Lord Mayor Andrew Montague, before inspecting GAA headquarters.

The suitability of Croke Park will be compared with Wembley, which has hosted the most recent NFL games in Europe. London as a venue, however, has become a difficult logistical proposition next year due to the Olympic Games.

Other stadiums under review by the NFL are believed to be the two German stadiums in Frankfurt and Munich. The Commerzbank-Arena only has a capacity of 48,000 in comparison to Croke Park’s full house of 82,300. However, this venue has links to the sport, having been the home patch of the Frankfurt Galaxy until NFL Europe folded in 2007.

The Olympic stadium in Munich is the other option with its capacity of 69,250.

Murrayfield, the Scottish rugby union ground in Edinburgh, with its capacity of 67,130, is believed to be another contender but it struggles to get decent numbers for Edinburgh rugby matches.

NFL teams played at Croke Park before the stadium was completely revamped. On June 27th, 1997 the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Chicago Bears 30-17. Should Dublin be chosen as the venue, the Steelers would be strong contenders to return as their chairman emeritus Dan Rooney is the United States ambassador to Ireland. His father, Art Rooney, founded the franchise as the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933.

Rooney is not directly involved in the current negotiations but he has been a regular guest of the GAA at Croke Park and provided advice ahead of the NFL visit.

Another potentially significant factor in American Football coming to Croke Park, in 2012 at least, is the Aviva Stadium has already secured the Notre Dame versus Navy game for September 1st next year (a fixture previously hosted by Croke Park in November, 1996) – 20,000 American tourists are expected to visit Ireland for that event.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who will not be part of tomorrow’s delegation, mentioned Croke Park as a potential venue in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated.

Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna and his staff will host the Americans. “They will be examining our facilities; the pitch, the corporate area, our television viewpoints and all other aspects of the stadium,” said McKenna. “We believe Croke Park will make a strong impression.

“They will be looking at the four- and five-star hotels in Dublin and the transport infrastructure so it is a case of us as a stadium and the whole city putting our best foot forward. We have co-operation from a number of senior tourist officials to assist us. This would be more than just a NFL game; it is a week-long festival.

“It would provide a huge economic boost to secure a NFL game at Croke Park,” McKenna added. “And not just for the GAA but for the entire city. There are massive benefits from such a worldwide event coming here.”

Croke Park is a proven venue for hosting major sporting events. The All-Ireland finals every September are an obvious example. In 2003 Nelson Mandela was guest of honour at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.

McKenna can also cite the three U2 360-tour concerts in 2009 that saw 250,000 spectators enter the stadium over three nights.

There was also the hosting of soccer (against France) and rugby (against Australia) internationals over successive days in November, 2009. The stadium was commercially flipped and the pitch manicured in just 14 hours. The previous November saw the biggest ever attended provincial rugby match in Ireland as Leinster defeated Munster 25-6 in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

Ironically, a major delegation of GAA officials is currently in San Francisco as part of the annual All Star hurling tour.