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Navy athletic director says moving Notre Dame game costly; no decisions yet regarding attendance

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, left, and Notre Dame counterpart Brian Kelly will meet on the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium turf for the first time in history.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, left, and Notre Dame counterpart Brian Kelly will meet on the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium turf for the first time in history. (Matt Cashore, USA Today Sports)

Moving the Navy-Notre Dame football game from Dublin to Annapolis will result in a huge financial setback for all parties. However, it pales in comparison to the alternative of canceling the contest outright.

That was the conclusion drawn by Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk, who spoke with The Capital on Tuesday morning to discuss the decision to play the game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium over Labor Day weekend.

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Billed as the 2020 Aer Lingus College Football Classic, Navy versus Notre Dame was a major event that would have filled hotels, restaurants and shops around the greater Dublin region in Ireland. Aviva Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 51,700, has been sold out for months with a majority of spectators coming from outside Ireland.

Gladchuk said almost 40,000 tourist packages had been sold with tickets being purchased by residents of 18 different countries.

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“The economic impact for Ireland was in the multiple, multiple, multiple millions of dollars. It would have been a massive economic boon to that country,” Gladchuk said.

Record capacity at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium can hold upwards of 38,000 spectators when standing-room-only tickets are sold. However, the Naval Academy Athletic Association is not anticipating being allowed to have a sellout crowd for the Notre Dame game, which will be held either Saturday or Sunday of Labor Day weekend in early September.

A final decision regarding crowd size will be made after consulting with local government officials and will be approved by Vice Admiral Sean Buck, the Naval Academy superintendent.

“I’m hopeful by game time, the superintendent will feel comfortable that — at a minimum — we have 4,000 midshipmen there,” Gladchuk said. “Of course, the public attendance is [to be determined] and predicated on the guidance we get from the governor’s office and the county executive’s office in terms of what type of crowd would be acceptable.”

It remains possible no fans will be allowed inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the season opener. Gladchuk said the likelihood of a vastly reduced audience is why the Notre Dame game was not moved to a National Football League stadium in the United States.

“Because of the expected crowd limitations, whatever they’re going to be, it made sense to do it right in our backyard,” Gladchuk said. “It makes for a first time, only time, historic event. This would never have happened in our lifetime if it had not been for the virus.”

Navy has played Notre Dame annually since 1927 and never has the game been held in Annapolis. The Fighting Irish are looking forward to finally experiencing a football game day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which traditionally features a Brigade of Midshipman march-on and a fly-over of fighter jets.

“I will add that Notre Dame is very excited to play at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium,” Gladchuk said.

Due primarily to the significant loss of ticket revenue, NAAA will not come close to realizing the amount of revenue it typically would when hosting the Notre Dame game. During the 93-year history of the series, the Navy “home” games have always been held at NFL venues and attracted upwards of 50,000 fans.

“We’re going to take a significant hit financially. Losing this game in Ireland is a multi-million-dollar setback,” said Gladchuk, adding that Navy’s travel expenses were a “mere fraction” of the gross revenue.

Gladchuk and Notre Dame counterpart Jack Swarbrick had always targeted the first week of June as a deadline for making a final decision about the Ireland game. Ultimately, the decision to move the game back to the U.S. was based on positions the Irish government has taken in terms of international travel and large gatherings, Gladchuk said.

“Ireland has already canceled a number of major events into October. Our decision was delayed, largely due to wishful thinking we all had that the game could somehow be conducted,” he said. “Our thought process was to wait as long as we could to evaluate the COVID situation.”

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Travel arrangements, including flight and hotel reservations, for fans and representatives of both programs were a major consideration in moving the game three months ahead of time.

“At some point you just have to pull the plug and move on,” Gladchuk said. “Could we have waited another two or three weeks? Sure, but the uncertainty just created a high level of anxiety for all involved.”

There is still much work to be done with Gladchuk expecting to know the specific date, time and television network (ABC or ESPN) for Navy-Notre Dame by the middle of July. Navy athletic officials will fine-tune details regarding logistics when it learns how many fans will be allowed inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Gladchuk added that there are two or three scenarios, each with varying degrees of attendance.

“All safety and security measures will be addressed from concessions to restrooms to seating assignments to tailgating; All of that is on our docket for evaluation and decision-making," he said. "We’re still three months out and a lot can change between now and game time.”

Navy has not announced the site of its next “home” game against Notre Dame in 2022. However, all indications are that a decision has been made that will preclude going to Ireland that year.

“There are some dates that have been committed into the future that would probably preclude an immediate U-turn or a re-do if you will,” Gladchuk said. “Jack and I have discussed the road to return to Dublin. We’re just not there yet in terms of a date, but we’re both absolutely committed to figure out the soonest date possible to get back to the Emerald Isle.”

Managing the Navy-Notre Dame game on the Ireland end was the committee for Irish American Events Limited, a corporation comprised of government and business leaders among others. Gladchuk address the organizing committee first thing Tuesday morning (7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time) and assured the Navy-Notre Dame would return to Dublin sooner rather than later.

“This is what I told them: It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. We’re going to postpone the game and reschedule for another time,” he said. “Keep the faith because we’ll be back. During the next cycle, we’ll find a date that works.”

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