The last time Northwestern played a home football game against Nebraska that fans could attend was on an October day, it was homecoming and a crowd of over 47,000 watched the Wildcats pick up a comeback win in overtime that propelled them to a Big Ten championship game.
On Saturday, Northwestern plays its home match against the Cornhuskers in Dublin, Ireland. It’s an event that places significant demands on both schools in exchange for nearly unfettered national television exposure on the sport’s opening weekend and a heavily paid opportunity to engage donors and fans while giving players a brief taste of Irish culture before setting off again. an ocean and half of the United States.
So what happened to two schools in one of the two richest conferences in college athletics traveling thousands of miles for a league game?
Northwestern’s decision was costly. The Wildcats, who have appeared in two of the Big Ten’s last four league games, have agreed to put themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage. They were already scheduled to play four home conference games in the Big Ten league’s nine-game schedule this season. Now they will only host three conference opponents: No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 2 Ohio State and Illinois.
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Northwestern will be well compensated for sacrificing this home game, according to John Anthony, founder and CEO of Anthony Travel and director of Irish American Events Limited, which arranged the contracts for this game. As a private school, Northwestern is exempt from disclosing such deals, but Anthony said he receives “the lion’s share of the economic benefits” for his home team role. In addition to having most of its expenses covered, Nebraska will receive $250,000 from organizers, according to a USA TODAY Sports contract obtained from the university. through an open case request.
As for Northwestern’s share, last year Kansas State moved its scheduled home game with Stanford to Arlington, Texas, and was paid $2.8 million. Houston received $2.4 million to play Texas Tech at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, rather than its on-campus facility. The numbers for Kansas State and Houston came from contracts for those games.
Northwestern campus spokesman Jon Yates told USA TODAY Sports that the university declined to comment on the event from an academic perspective and that athletic department spokesman Paul Kennedy , did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment on the game.
In addition to the financial gain, Northwestern receives a coveted first national slot on Fox, something the Wildcats only got once last season. While already having the media appeal of an international game, Saturday’s game has the added bonus of being the only Power Five Schools game in Week 0.
With classes at Northwestern not starting until Sept. 21 and no games scheduled for Sept. 3, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said he’s allowing his team to enjoy being in another country. not only before, but also after the game.
“We really wanted it to be something special,” Fitzgerald said at a press conference this week. “An overwhelming majority of our squad had never left the country, let alone been to Ireland. And so with the Big Ten giving us a bye the following week, we’re going to stay in the country on Sunday and give our lads a opportunity that families are able to do, to spend time soaking up as much culture and as much country as possible, and then come back here on Monday.”
Northwestern alumnus and major college and athletics benefactor Pat Ryan, namesake of the school’s football stadium and stadium, is also honored during the first half of Saturday’s game. Aon Corporation, an insurance and consulting firm founded by retired CEO Ryan, is a corporate sponsor of Saturday’s game.
Gambling is a big business to run. The Nebraska contract was signed by the school and Irish American Events Limited in May 2021, just 15 months ago. The Cornhuskers were scheduled to play Illinois in Ireland last season, but the game was instead hosted by the Fighting Illini due to COVID-19.
Who Nebraska would play this year came down to a numbers game. For the Cornhuskers to drop a home game was not going to happen. Their Memorial Stadium ranks fourth in conference and 13th in college football with a capacity over 90,000 and has been sold out for every game since 1962. Their five road opponents were Northwestern, Rutgers, Purdue, Michigan and Iowa. The Wildcats were the best fit, given that Ryan Field is the only Big Ten football stadium with a capacity below 50,000. Northwestern failed to sell a single game in the 2021 season.
Nebraska, according to the contract, was to launch several marketing campaigns for game tickets, travel packages, hospitality and corporate events, as well as organizing travel groups well beyond the game to the typical exterior. The school will travel with more than 200 people, including 115 football players and at least 70 band members and cheerleaders.
A section of the contract focuses on tourism and event planning. Nebraska is obligated to participate in things like a welcome parade, a tailgate hosted by the respective school president, and a “US-Ireland CEO club event.”
Nebraska was to produce a list of 80 Nebraska-affiliated CEOs and business leaders who would be invited to the event. According to a university spokesperson, Nebraska compiled the list from the names of people who had previously purchased tickets.
“I think the whole state of Nebraska has a business mission,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said. USA TODAY Sports said when discussing how the school decides on its travel group. “The governor is involved, there are a lot of moving parts.”
The game was well received. According to Anthony, more than 13,000 Americans are expected to make the trip for the game, making it the biggest tourist event entering Ireland this year. In total, the Aviva Stadium will host around 35,000 people at the time of the match.
“Ireland really embraces that,” Anthony said. “They have so much trade growth, economic growth, and job growth with the United States. There’s direct growth from those games and others that naturally continue to grow.”
For the teams involved, setting up the game is not free of major logistical obstacles. Both teams arrived several days before Saturday’s game. Nebraska has the added challenge of juggling the first week of classes with this travel itinerary. To make up for the three missed teaching days, the team will bring in pedagogical advisors and set aside time for teaching periods. Nebraska is scheduled to return to the United States for a game against North Dakota on September 3.
Nebraska will drop its entire travel party of more than 200 people on planes immediately after the end of play. That plane is expected to arrive at 5 a.m. Sunday morning, according to Nebraska associate athletic director Keith Mann.
To combat the side effects of international travel, Nebraska worked with an in-house sports science team to maximize sleep patterns and mitigate the negative effects of jet lag and jet lag. The team recommended Nebraska return to the United States as soon as possible, hence the hasty exit from Ireland.
This strange arrangement could become more commonplace. Notre Dame and Navy, who were originally due to play in Ireland in 2020, are due to play in Dublin in 2023. Anthony said he had seen significant interest from “many” Power Five conferences to play internationally at the ‘coming. While Ireland is the only country with a plan ‘in motion’, other countries have started considering potentially hosting future teams.
“There’s so much to put in place for this to happen, especially economically,” Anthony said. “It’s so expensive to put on a game like this. So, yes, everyone is interested in the tourism that we can bring, but whether or not they can support it, for that to happen, that remains to be seen.”