Ireland and college football, those two things went together about as good as oil and water up until last season when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on Navy at Croke Park. Now that they've had a small taste it appears both sides want more, at least that's what is being reported over in Ireland. However, is that necessarily a good thing for the game of college football?
According to the reports future games in 2014, 2016, and 2018 are being discussed. It's long been rumored that Penn State has eyes on playing that 2014 game against UCF and it appears that that game is about to become a reality, with rumors floating of an announcement coming in the next week or so. The article also states that Notre Dame and Alabama have eyes on playing games in the Emerald Isle as well.
What will be interesting to see is if these games can take off without the connection of Notre Dame to them. The popularity of the NFL outside of the United States is growing massively, especially in the UK and Ireland, but does that popularity extend even further into a game and set up that the folks of Ireland don't necessarily understand? Let's not forget that these games aren't just trips overseas for the heck of it, it's about attracting potential new fans and raking in the money. Question is does what is being thought of for the 2014 edition solve that problem?
To me, if these next round of games are to succeed they will need to do far better than Penn State vs. UCF. Yes, Penn State is a nationally known entity with a massive traveling fanbase, but does UCF really give the fan in Dublin any incentive to want to see this game? It's doubtful at best.
What made the first edition work was the novelty of it all and eventually if you do something unique enough times that uniqueness is gone. Don't believe me, just look at the declining attendance at outdoor hockey events that are now held on an annual basis. To say these games are walking a fine line would be an understatement.
Rumor has it that Notre Dame vs. Boston College is the game being considered for the 2016 contest at Croke Park and that old school rivalry game is exactly what these type of events should be all about – it's a way to showcase what makes college football unique, special, and different than the NFL… You know, pure unadulterated rivalry and pagentry. That's something fans of sport the world over get, it's pretty much the universal language of sports fans.
If Alabama goes and plays the third game it would be smart to find a way to make this game against another big time name, perhaps even considering something like a game against an Ohio State or Florida State or some other name that would draw attention internationally.
One of the biggest concerns with this type of an overseas series is how it will affect the fan here in the United States, because let's face it, they'll be the ones counted on to fill the seats that the local Dublin market won't fill.
That's a problem as I see it because many college football fans at large aren't exactly thrilled with seeing more of these neutral site games happening and they've got some great points – mainly splitting fan money away from the expected bowl game destination trip and making these neutral site games less and less special and therefore a draw for fans to open up their already stretched thin wallets for airline tickets, hotel rooms, passports, etc. that come with a long overseas trip just for one football game.
At the end of the day, if these games are sell outs and put on a good show how could there be anything bad about playing games in an area that isn't reached by college football on the whole? After all, growing potential new fanbases, TV revenue streams, and on and on can only lead to a bigger cash grab for the universities looking to always increase the money they receive into their coffers.