Páraic Duffy loves American sport.
Hardly a day goes by without him reading the Boston Globe and the writings of Dan Shaughnessy, the latest on the Red Sox and the Patriots. Last month was a rough one for him, with the Bruins coming up just short in the Stanley Cup finals and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett reluctantly bidding the Celtics farewell to suit up for the Brooklyn Nets.
What’s helped ease the pain for him is that some American sport is coming right here, to the garden right beside his. The Croke Park Classic takes place next August with the legendary college football side Penn State University taking on the University of Central Florida (UCF) in their 2014 season opener.
Just how big a game is it? Well, put it this way. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich’s average home attendance is 71,000. Barcelona’s is 73,000. Manchester United’s is 76,000. Penn State’s is 106,000.
That might explain why they are not the home team hosting the Croke Park Classic but why they are on the bill.
Even allowing for the notoriety the programme has gathered since an assistant coach was jailed for child abuse and indelibly smearing the legacy of the iconic head coach Joe Paterno, Penn State remains one of the five biggest programmes in all of college football. Navy and Notre Dame were worried last year whether Croke Park would be too big for their game and so opted for the smaller Aviva. Penn State and UCF though are confident that they’ll pretty much sell out all 69,000 seats that are going for this Croke Park Classic.
So is Duffy and the GAA. They need to. About half the crowd will come over from the States. It’s up to the GAA to bring in the rest. But if they do, then Duffy believes more will follow — like an NFL game, as in Patriots-Giants-style rather than Dublin-Tyrone.
“How it [the Croke Park Classic] came about was that we had tried very hard to get an NFL game here,” explains Duffy. “To be honest, the reason is very simple. We need the stadium to generate revenues for the association.
“Apart from our own games, it needs extra games and extra events. Last year we had a really good year. We had three concerts and the Eucharistic Congress. Next year we have One Direction twice. But we have no concerts this year so we really have to push all the time to have the stadium used.”
Patrick Steenberge is a former Notre Dame quarterback who’d kept in touch with the GAA since the bidding for the Navy-Notre Dame game and when he let them know he had contacts with Penn State, arrangements were made for the GAA to take a conference call with the university’s representatives during last winter’s All-Star tour in New York.
“Penn State were very interested but since they generate about $5 million [€5.8m] every home game, they weren’t going to give up a home game,” says Duffy. “So it became a matter then of getting someone to play Penn State. That’s how we got around to UCF. The key was to get them over to see the stadium and they were absolutely thrilled when they did.
“We’re promoting it ourselves, in terms of putting the finance up for it, but there’s no risk in that. We’ll make it profitable. How profitable depends on just how big a crowd we bring in. But we’re confident regarding that challenge and we’re excited. This is a huge stadium. You want to see it used.”
Tickets are already available from Ticketmaster.
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