This year’s Aer Lingus College Football Classic, originally scheduled for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, will now be held at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois amid ongoing concerns relating to COVID-19.
It marks the second successive year that the game has been switched to the US, with the 2020 match-up between Navy and Notre Dame having taken place in Annapolis, Maryland. This year’s game between Illinois and Nebraska will still be held on August 28 but will be staged at the 60,000-seat Memorial Stadium.
Plans are continuing for a future five-game series in Ireland, with the focus now turning to 2022. Notre Dame, Navy, Illinois and Nebraska remain committed to fulfilling the fixture at the earliest possible opportunity.
The announcement follows consultation between the Irish government, medical authorities and representatives from Illinois and Nebraska.
Padraic O’Kane, director of Irish American Events Ltd, said: “Whilst today’s announcement is another difficult blow for the Irish hospitality and tourism industry, as organisers, we are fully engaged with our stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic and remain hopeful, that with the right support, we will be in a position to re-launch the Aer Lingus College Football five-game series in the coming months.
“We are at an advanced stage of negotiations with high-profile universities for the 2022 and 2023 fixtures. However, the five-game series business model post-COVID-19 has additional costs and risks which we are currently working through with our public and private stakeholders and partners.”
O’Kane added: “The games attract on average 25,000 American visitors to the country, staying on average seven nights and the Illinois/Nebraska game alone was set to be worth an estimated €70m (£60.6m/$84.5m) to the Irish economy. Irish hoteliers will feel that considerable blow today as 105,000 bed nights booked for the game have been released across the country for the second year in a row. We are determined to start the series at the Aviva Stadium in 2022.”
Neil Naughton, chairman of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, said: “These games offer huge publicity potential, practical economic benefits, and a genuine expression of the close ties between Ireland and the United States. We have made great friends with both the University of Illinois and the University of Nebraska and I look forward to welcoming them back to Ireland in the not-too-distant future and giving their travelling fans the welcome Ireland is so famous for.”
In August 2018, Aviva Stadium agreed a deal to stage five college American football games and last year’s clash between Notre Dame and Navy had been due to kick off the long-term agreement. It was announced at the time that the games would deliver around €250m in economic benefit to Ireland.