Chicago braces for Red & Black surge for UGA-Notre Dame

ATHENS – You can be sure that coach Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs are not going to overlook Appalachian State, which visits Sanford Stadium a week from Saturday for the season opener. But if you’re a UGA fan and you’re not looking ahead to the Notre Dame game in South Bend Week 2, you might need some Irish luck to make any plans to get up there at this point.

Everything’s pretty much sold out. Tickets to the game are long gone (unless you want to pay exorbitantly on the secondary marker). Hotel rooms anywhere near most of the action have been booked. If you’re looking for a party bus to carry you to and fro, you’ll probably need to just go out and buy one yourself.

In fact, that might not be a bad idea for budding entrepreneurs in the greater Chicago area. They could use some more buses over that way.

“We’ve got 17 buses and they’re all booked that weekend and most of them are for Georgia fans,” said Dillon Murphy, who manages Irish Express, a Chicago-based companies that specializes in arranging travel and entertainment for Notre Dame games. Murphy said all his colleagues and competitors in the sports-fan transportation business are similarly tapped out.

Eight of his buses are reserved for Notre Dame fans that regularly contract them for the two-hour trip to South Bend for games during the season via the Irish Express luxury liners. The other nine buses that are being utilized on Sept. 9th were sold out as quick as Irish Express could secure them, and there are no more buses to be found, Murphy said.

“We release tickets as we obtain buses, so my first release was in January and we sold out in about five days,” Murphy said. “That was all Georgia fans. I got my first call about the Georgia game last September. That guys was just waiting for me to release tickets and I heard from him in about five minutes.”

The party bus concept is a particularly useful option for the “perfect storm” of circumstances that have developed in Chicago around this long-anticipated matchup. Georgia and Notre Dame are meeting in football for the first time in 37 years on Sept. 9. The last time they played was on Jan. 1, 1981, in New Orleans when the Bulldogs won 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to secure the 1980 national championship. The two teams agreed in 2014 to play a home-and-home series for the first time in history. The Fighting Irish will visit to Sanford Stadium.

It just so happens that Notre Dame is unveiling a $400,000 million expansion and renovation of Notre Dame Stadium this season. Both the Chicago Cubs (1 p.m.) and Chicago White Sox (7:30 p.m.) are playing home baseball games at their respective stadiums in Chicago on Friday. UGA’s national championship coach Vince Dooley is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Cubs’ game against the Milwaukee Brewers. And the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons are playing the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. Many Georgia fans are planning on attending three events, and a few ambitious souls are going to try all four.

The Bulldogs received only 8,000 tickets from Notre Dame to provide their donor base – 400 additional went to the Redcoat Band — but thousands more are buying tickets on the secondary market. Meanwhile, many others are going without tickets, either in hopes of securing some on location or simply enjoying the tailgate scene and activities outside of the stadium and/or in Chicago over the weekend.

“If we would’ve had 20,000 tickets I could have sold them with no problem,” said Tim Cearley, who oversees Georgia’s ticket operations. “I think we’ll see that and more make the migration to South Bend. How many of those make it in the stadium will be determined. But I’ve been in this office for 20 years and, in terms of out-of-town games, this is off the charts from a demand perspective.”

Which begs the question, how many UGA fans will actually be making the trek north? Hard to tell.

Anthony Travel is the nation’s largest provider of sports travel management services and contracts with 80 Division I universities to assist with their sports travel needs

“I’ve personally seen it reported that it’s the highest-demand game of the college football season and it’s expected to command the highest-priced ticket,” said Steve Egan, vice president of distinctive events for Anthony. “We’re definitely dealing with a higher number of inquiries and bookings on both the home and visitors sides for that game. We sold out of most of our ticket packages and most of our hotel room inventory about two months ago. Now we’re taking them on a case-by-case basis, depending on hotel availability.”

Georgia fans have been known to respond well to these major-opponent road games. In 2008, the Bulldogs went to Tempe, Ariz., to play Arizona State. So many fans followed them there that some of the bars in the Mill Avenue party district ran out of beer.

The good news is neither Chicago nor South Bend is likely to be overwhelmed by this moment. Every major airline – including Atlanta-based Delta – flies multiple daily routes from Atlanta to Chicago. And there are thousands of hotel rooms in the city, the third-most populous in the U.S.

But most of the premium lodging, has been snapped up, particularly around Michigan Avenue and in the Rush and Division Street areas. And, at this point, rooms of any type are tough if not impossible to come by in South Bend.

“It’s somewhat anecdotal but I can definitely tell you there’s not much room at the inn,” Rob DeCleene, executive director of Visit Southbend, said with a laugh. “There’s a smattering of them here and there at select properties and we track that. We encourage people to call us or check our website. So from that standpoint we know it’s going to be a huge game. The excitement in advance of it is certainly palpable. We’re well aware that it’s going to be a hopping weekend in South Bend.”

You can visit the Visit South Bend website to find what lodging availability remains.

Of course, this is old hat for Notre Dame. A historic institution that plays an independent schedule in football, it regularly plays host to opponents that either never have played there or haven’t been there in decades. So it’s not uncommon to see a highly-motivated fan base come in droves to see their team play the Irish.

That’s why people like Murphy are there to serve in Chicago – and to make money. You can grab one of 50 seats on one of these charter buses for anywhere from $150 to $200 apiece. With Irish Express, that includes “Breakfast & Bloodies” (as in Bloody Marys), a fully-stocked bar with bartender for the two-hour jaunt to South Bend, a tailgate setup with burgers and drinks outside the stadium and a box lunch and open bar for the ride back. Then they drop you off at Old Towne Social bar back in Chicago with a ticket for “a drink on the house.”

“It’s a great deal and people love it,” Murphy said.

Based the response he has gotten, Murphy compares the expected UGA influx to when Texas played Notre Dame a few years ago. The Longhorns’ faithful flooded Chicago and South Bend for the season opener on Sept. 5, 2015, only to see their team lose 28-3.

“That was pretty crazy,” Murphy said. “I was working with another company at the time and we sold out of 15 buses in no time flat. … But if you could go whole hog and just kept selling until you met demand, I’d say Georgia might be even bigger than Texas.”

We’ll soon see.

The post Chicago braces for Red & Black surge for UGA-Notre Dame appeared first on DawgNation.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X