football Edit

Big Red Business: Breaking down Nebraska's 2021 trip to Ireland

Nebraska will be dancing an Irish jig to the tune of $250,000 when it opens the 2021 football season in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium against Illinois.

That’s the guaranteed amount the school will receive for playing the Aug. 28th, 2021 Aer Lingus Football Classic. The payment should cover Nebraska’s travel expenses and hopefully, then some, according to a copy of the contract.

While the guaranteed payment is less than the $1.25 million slated to go to Illinois, which is the designated home team, consider that visiting schools in conference road games are not paid anything to cover expenses.

Illinois’ payment covers not only its travel expenses but whatever revenue the school would generally expect to generate had the game been played in Champaign-Urbana, said Kent Brown, an athletic department spokesman.

The game, which will follow next year’s Aer Lingus Classic between Notre Dame and Navy— serves as the centerpiece of a nearly week-long series of pep rallies, parties, tailgating, and academic, cultural, business and networking events. Irish American Events Limited is hosting the game and the festivities leading up to it.

Why was Nebraska invited? “Because their following is so strong, loyal, and rabid,” said John Anthony, president and chief executive officer of Dallas-based Anthony Travel, the official travel partner for the game and a driving force in finding college teams to come to the Emerald Isle.

Anthony said in an interview that Nebraska was “very appealing and high on our list of teams from the start.” He attended the 2000 Nebraska-Notre Dame game in South Bend, where the Fighting Irish stadium turned into a sea of red.

“That’s all I needed to see,” he said, in why Nebraska was a top choice for the game in Dublin.

Illinois also was appealing because of its large alumni base both in the United States and internationally, especially in the United Kingdom, and the large number of Illinois-based companies that do business in the region, Anthony said.

The price for fans to attend this party? For now, anywhere from $2,935 per person to $4,855 per person, according to the travel packages being promoted by Anthony Travel. The collegiate sports travel management company, which has been involved in college football games in Ireland since 1996, is offering both travel packages and corporate events.

The tour packages do not include airfare. Those rates won’t generally be posted until next fall, about 11 months before the game. Aer Lingus has daily flights to Dublin from Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Football tickets can only be purchased as part of the travel packages and corporate hospitality events through Feb. 14, 2021. After that, remaining tickets will be sold without requiring tour packages through the Nebraska and Illinois ticket offices, and perhaps through brokers and other traditional outlets.

Nebraska is guaranteed $250,000 for their 2021 trip to Ireland. Illinois will get $1.25 million for giving up their home game.
Nebraska is guaranteed $250,000 for their 2021 trip to Ireland. Illinois will get $1.25 million for giving up their home game. (Nate Clouse)

Ticket orders 

Both Nebraska and Illinois received the same 10,000 seat allotments for the game, and both are working with Anthony Travel to lock up reservations. The company requires a $250 deposit per person; travel packages can be confirmed later.

Demand has been good so far. According to news reports, more than 600 deposits for tickets from Nebraska fans had been placed in the first 24 hours following the official announcement of the 2021 match-up. That reportedly set a record for first-day sales to the game.

Figures were unavailable for Illinois, but Brown said “the interest level has been very good.”

Anthony didn’t disclose any ticket deposit numbers. However, he said, fan interest is already “33 percent higher” compared to the same time in advance of the 2020 Notre Dame-Navy game.

Aviva Stadium seats close to 50,000, and Anthony said he expects at least half the stadium to be filled by Nebraska and Illinois fans who travel from the United States to the game.

John Anthony and his company Anthony Travel own the rights to all the tickets right now for the 2021 game in Ireland.
John Anthony and his company Anthony Travel own the rights to all the tickets right now for the 2021 game in Ireland. (Nate Clouse)

Pick a package 

If you’re considering making the overseas trek, Anthony Travel offers a variety of packages. Pick your price point.

Want fancy hotels? There’s a package for you. Same goes for golf outings. Tours to Kerry, Dublin and Galway? Options abound. Check www.huskers2ireland.com.

All travel packages include a game ticket, hotel accommodations, a private welcome gathering and various city sight-seeing, game-day transportation, onsight assistance from Anthony Travel, and commemorative souvenirs.

Anthony said that so far, the top-seller is the eight-day, three-city package where visitors can see all of Ireland’s sights and landmarks. That top of the line package — for a party of two — can run nearly $10,000, plus airfare.

To give you an idea on plane tickets, for example, from Omaha to Dublin, the cheapest advertised on Kayak’s website was $1,328.

When asked about affordability, Anthony agreed that in general traveling abroad is expensive, which is why his company has tried to offer a variety of packages.

“But the return is far greater than the expense,” he said. “This has tremendous value and look at the experience it presents. You can travel, sightsee, take in the game and be surrounded comfortably by thousands of fellow fans.”

As proof of fan interest, he noted that sales have increased dramatically every year a game has been held in Ireland.

Ireland’s economy and tourism industry has a lot riding on the success of the football games. For the games played in 2012, 2014, and 2016, the economic impact has ranged from $45-to $50-million Euros to as high as $100 million Euros, Anthony said.

The Nebraska-Illinois matchup is the second of five planned college football games in Ireland. A lot of lead time is required to find the most appealing teams and iron out scheduling details. Conversations about the 2021 game started about two years ago, Anthony said.

“If we bring teams over that just bring 1,000 to 2,000 fans each, we’ll not have another game,” Anthony said.

Nebraska will take a minimum of 70 band members and cheerleaders to Ireland. NU will leave on a Tuesday and fly home either directly after the game ends or the next morning.
Nebraska will take a minimum of 70 band members and cheerleaders to Ireland. NU will leave on a Tuesday and fly home either directly after the game ends or the next morning. (Nate Clouse)

Will the tuba section travel? 

The 12-page contract signed by athletic director Bill Moos is filled with stipulations and commitments.

Among them:

*A minimum of 70 Cornhusker band members and cheerleaders will attend the game and participate in a variety of activities. The athletic department said it is too early to determine whether the entire band and pep squad will travel.

*Nebraska is responsible for covering the cost of passports for all players, band and cheerleaders, and staff.

*Nebraska will receive one complimentary 12-person stadium suite, though the school will be responsible for the tab for food and beverage expenses.

*Nebraska’s seats are on the east side of the stadium, primarily between the 35-yard lines.

*The 300-plus seat team plane — an Aer Lingus charter flight — will depart from Lincoln on the Tuesday before the game, and will return either immediately following the game or the day after. The plane can carry up to 20,000 pounds of equipment. (Don’t worry, Illinois will not be on the flight.)

*The official traveling party will require 110 hotel rooms, plus three suites at a four-star hotel.

At this stage, it is hard to tell whether Nebraska will do better than just break even on the Ireland trip. The athletic department acknowledged there will “undoubtedly be costs associated with this trip that will be difficult to project two years out for Nebraska’s first overseas trip in many years. We are appreciative of the $250,000 allotment to offset these expenses.”

And in case you’re worried that the football players will be away too long from classes, here’s what the athletic department had to say:

“We value academics as being as valuable to the student-athlete experience as competition. The opportunity for these student-athletes to experience a different country and culture will be a valuable educational experience. Due to the time demands of playing Division I athletics, many student-athletes never get the experience of studying abroad. This opportunity provides them the ability to experience another culture while competing at the highest level.”

Steve Rosen writes about the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at sbrosen1030@gmail.com.