Following the huge success of the Notre Dame versus Navy college football game this August Penn State and University of Central Florida travel to Croke Park Dublin for their season opener. Alongside this sporting occasion Irishman Donal Walsh with the help of Peter Ryan, Deputy Consul for the Irish Goverment in New York have created a business conference to build on the links between Ireland, Pensylvania and Florida. These college games have huge significance in the US and provide a huge opportunity to deepen business and cultural links between Ireland and the US. 

Why host a business conference alongside the Penn State/UCF game?

The 2012 Emerald Isle Classic football game (Notre Dame Vs Navy) in Dublin was seen as a great success with the large number of American sports fans who traveled to Ireland and the significant economic impact the event brought to the city of Dublin and the country. However both during and post event it was recognized by the Irish business community that with a large contingent of many highly successful alumni of the competing schools travelling to Dublin to watch the game, a business forum held in conjunction with the American football activities would be a great way of bringing business opportunity to Ireland and the fans of the Universities.

With CEO’s, Executive Directors, Politicians and Civic leaders in Ireland to celebrate the game, there was a missed opportunity for connecting these leaders together with counterparts in Ireland to create not only lasting memories but also lasting relationships and legacy business to benefit all.

The 2013 announcement by the GAA and the team at Croke Park, of the Croke Park Classic football game between Penn State and University of Central Florida provided the perfect opportunity to add the missing business component to the overall positive experience.

In particular, with both Penn State and Central Florida being public state run schools, the concept evolved to connecting not only school alumni, but also all business leaders from these two great US states to the country of Ireland. The schools are a representation of the state overall, and this provides the opportunity for business from each state to not only support their team but notably to use it as a platform to build business within their respective industry for their state overall.

This is a very unique opportunity for Irish business leaders to learn about new markets in the US. From our experiences working with foreign companies looking to do business in America, many are overwhelmed by the size of the United States and as a result narrowly set sights on markets with which they already have some familiarity, such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. While these are certainly commerce hubs and wonderful destinations for Irish and European companies, there are many US markets that are underexplored by foreign companies to expand. The AIBF will allow Irish business to focus on and specifically learn about and connect with the states of Florida and Pennsylvania, the 21st and 22nd largest economies in the world! While doing this it also allows Florida and Pennsylvania business understand how Ireland provides the perfect destination for companies that are expanding outside the USA to Europe and around the world, and the reasons why Forbes magazine ranks Ireland the #1 country in which to do business.

The goal of the AIBF is to create a platform for educating all parties on the benefits of business in FL, PA and Ireland and to connect the civic and business leaders in each, to foster trade and enterprise among them. This creates an enhanced component of the game and a deeper, lasting legacy for all event stakeholders

What is happening at the conference?

Thursday August 28 - One day business conference with a mixture of general sessions and breakout sessions, focused on featured industries.

The Conference is followed by a reception for attendees to network. On Friday for select supporters, there is the opportunity for private B2B meetings set up to further connect decision makers for one-on-one meetings. These meetings are set up by appointment (i.e. not just for each attendee, but rather for event partners, supporters and sponsors)

On Saturday the 30th of August, Croke Park will host the Penn State vs. UCF football game 

What will be the benefit of the conference?

The USA is a big country with many different states and regions. Florida and Pennsylvania are the 21st and 22nd largest economies in the world and are very proactive in attracting new businesses and ideas to their locations. Rarely do Irish businesses have an opportunity to learn about two individual US state and the opportunities they present for business on the island of Ireland. So any Irish company that has aspirations of USA expansion should attend this conference and learn of the new economy ideas, grants, support networks and the attitude of these regions in attracting Irish companies to become part of their infrastructure.

On the flip side of this, it is a great opportunity for businesses and organizations from the states of Florida and Pennsylvania to come and learn about Ireland as the best country in the world to do business (Forbes magazine 2013) and the gateway to Europe for thousands of top companies and why they should consider setting up offices and operations here - as the best stepping stone to the rest of the world. As well as these US businesses coming over to attend, Irish companies that develop business with new companies that set up in Ireland should also attend and learn of the needs of these US organizations.

So there is something for everybody to connect directly to the highest civic & business leaders from FL, PA & Ireland, and take some true value and opportunity away with them from the AIBF.

Why are you involved? Who else is involved?

The Rhiannon Group has a focus on business development for global organizations, notably within the field of sport. We have a successful track record of working with global sport and development organizations in helping them create and deliver new projects and initiatives that bring focus and results. Some past and current clients include the IOC, FIFA, Olympics games, Special Olympics, International Rugby Board, USA Rugby and various City and regional governments from around the globe.

We were made aware of the Croke Park Classic and the great work the team at the GAA are doing on this project by the Irish government (Consul General New York) – and we were instant fans and supporters. The Croke Park Classic is a tremendous way of bring American culture and business opportunities to Ireland, and we want to be a part of this for both the near and long term.

As we are based in Pennsylvania, have worked in Florida on many occasions and have a direct connection to Ireland working with many entities there, we have always had a strong belief in the tangible opportunities that exist within these three entities. Additionally, we have worked very closely with numerous US universities, including Penn State and Notre Dame, helping them to build business in other sport initiatives. The Croke Park Classic provides the perfect time for us to put our beliefs and skillset into action and bring together all of these different areas where we have experience and interest.

We understand that the road to success is to educate and inform participants of all three entities of the great possibilities and prospects that exist, and a strong business legacy will develop from this initial information platform.

We have some fantastic event partners/stakeholders for the forum including the governments of Ireland, Florida and Pennsylvania, the GAA and Bank of Ireland – to name but a few of the many organizations that believe this is an opportunity not to be missed

How can people get tickets?

You can get tickets for the forum at:

From the USA

From Ireland (different signup link due to currency and taxes)

For tickets to the Croke Park Classic Football game:

What are some of the benefits besides obvious tourism of hosting these college games in Ireland?

The main opportunity is to take this great part of USA culture, college football, and use it as a platform to educate people on the other opportunities that exist from within the regions where the teams come. The world is a smaller place than it was 20 years ago and every region of the world now thinks in global terms when it comes to business and outreach.

The team at Croke Park is bringing this great sporting occasion to Ireland, which obviously brings a lot of economic benefit with it, but they are also very strong in promoting the other opportunities that accompany events, such as a business component. It is important for all attendees to embrace the occasion to learn as much as we can about the entities involved, so we can grow beneficial relationships in the future.

For people outside the US can you describe the phenomenon that is college football?

Americans love sports at all levels, Youth, High School and Professional, but in particular they love sport played at the College level.

College athletics in America is different than anywhere else in the world, and as a result its structure is different to anywhere else in the world. A typical Division 1 athletic department will have an operating budget in the millions of dollars, while also owning some of the most advanced training and playing facilities available. (Penn St and UCF are in this category)

All College programs participate and compete in a full range of sports (soccer, baseball, tennis, etc.) - with some of the major institutions having as many as 40 sport programs on their campus. This can be best illustrated when famous athletes competing on a global scale have spent the majority of their formative training years at US colleges (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, John McEnroe).

American Football is by far the largest, most funded and most watched of all of the US college sports. In fact in a recent national survey, College football was ranked higher in popularity than many of the professional sports in America. This is even evident by the college football venues across the US, with 6 of the 10 largest stadiums in the world not only being in America, but specifically all being for college football (all over 100,000 fan capacities).

In terms of its appeal and its phenomenon, College Football is very similar to the GAA structure in Ireland. It is amateur sport that is funded by Universities and their competition organizations that they compete within. Similar to the GAA in Ireland, in the USA every state has at least one college football team, and most have numerous teams. As a result there is tremendous local pride in the regional college team, and everybody supports them when they play over the season – which last from late August to November.

Typically college teams receive very strong support when they play at their home field (6/7 games preseason), and a good level of fan support when they play away from home. However the biggest annual occasion in a school’s football calendar will be if it makes a “Bowl Game”. Teams are selected to these games based on their performance during the season, and it is a big reward for performing well. These games are nationally televised and are played against schools from other parts of the USA, so it is a great opportunity for the competing schools to showcase how big they are ( like an All-Ireland Final).This model is very similar to the annual provincial championships leading to the All- Ireland championships within the GAA.

As all college sport is amateur there is a huge regard and respect for the athletes that compete and the sacrifices they make for their school, while getting their degrees. College football is the primary driver why US universities lead the way in college sports, as the revenue generated by football is invested back into the development of all other sports played at the schools ( similar to the GAA model in Ireland)

It is a great spectacle and one that all Irish sports fan should come out and experience if they get the chance.