GAA committed to American football at Croke Park but NFL dream fades

Peter McKenna: 'We believe there's a huge opportunity here.'

Croke Park Stadium Director Peter McKenna has revealed his ambition to make Croke Park the home of American college football despite the failure to secure a profit from last August’s ‘Croke Park Classic’ — but the dream of bringing the NFL to Jones Road has faded.

The GAA sees a big future for the college game at headquarters, despite the failure to secure a profit from last August’s clash of Penn State and University of Central Florida.

The Croke Park stadium director yesterday admitted there had been no financial gain on the part of the GAA with regard to the controversial ‘Croke Park Classic’, the largest sporting event, outside of GAA, in Ireland last year.

Top brass are to finalise at the end of March the two teams who will travel over in the autumn of 2016 for the second instalment of American college football at Croke Park, with Boston College and Georgia Tech the expected visitors.

McKenna called for Government support to the tune of €750,000 to supplement the association’s bid to “establish a foothold’ in the American football market.

“We believe there’s a huge opportunity here,” said McKenna.

“The games that normally come here, say, involving Notre Dame, are guaranteed successes. But in order to widen that remit you’ve got to go to other colleges. London have done this very, very well in the NFL franchising there. In 2016 we hope to have another game here, this is all about building and getting ourselves to be the venue for these games.

“We’re talking to Boston College and they’re suggesting Georgia Tech as being the opposition. Negotiations are still ongoing. There are only a few colleges with strong Irish links like Notre Dame and Boston College, so in order to get to prove this is a sustainable venture we need colleges that are not that connected to Ireland. Penn State v UCF worked, even though there wasn’t any strong Irish connections.

“It will be every second year we will have teams over. This means we can really push the marketing and drive the audience. Moreover, the colleges will be pencilling this event into their calendar when they are recruiting students.”

He continued: “To break even last year was a strong achievement. The attendance at the game (53,000), outside of GAA, was the biggest sporting event in Ireland. So I was happy with the result. It is an investment. We did this without any Government support and I think with a bit of Government support forthcoming, having seen the advantage of taking in 20,000 tourists into the country for a three or four-day period and the money that was spent, it’s a strong contribution to the vitality of the city.”

McKenna hinted Croke Park hierarchy have given up on the dream of bringing the NFL to Jones Road.

“The governing body at collegiate level has very little direct contact with the NFL. The NFL have established Wembley now as being their place. They’d three games there this year. Collegiate football are probably the ones with the greatest support. It’s closer to ourselves as well, it’s an amateur sport.”

Meanwhile, director general Paraic Duffy says “it will take time” to redress the disparity in Dublin’s Central Council funding.

Dublin received €1,460,400 in 2014, while the combined figure allocated to the remaining 31 counties was more than €300,000 less, €1,402,600.

“The origins of that figure are we have a huge amount of coaches employed in Dublin to develop our games,” noted Duffy.

“Through time, we are trying to get a balance in terms of what Dublin get — but not just what Dublin get, but what larger counties get and what smaller counties get. We are trying to address that and we have taken numerous steps this year to address that but it is going to take time.

“The point I would make about Dublin is that if you want to expand the games, the biggest challenge for us is in the urban areas. We cannot expect to treat Dublin the same as anywhere else, it is a huge population. To develop the association in the biggest population base in the country means innovation, it means expense and it means resources. We can’t look at the games solely in terms of inter-county success, and so on.

“I do take the point that we need to look at fairness and equity and all of that and over a period of time, we will do that. But it’s important to realise the investment in Dublin has been successful — not just in terms of inter-county success but in terms of participation. You just need to look at the clubs around Dublin to see that.”

The GAA’s commercial revenue for 2014 reached €16.1m, a decrease on the 2013 figure of €17.3m. Finance director Tom Ryan said this was proof positive the association has not “cashed in” on the TV rights deal with Sky.

“It wasn’t the case that we sold to the highest bidder, there were a whole lot of other factors in play.”


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