You may not be a fan of Notre Dame but here’s why it’s good for Arlington and the CFP

If the College Football Playoff needed some fresh blood to heighten fan enthusiasm, Notre Dame’s first appearance might have done the trick.

“We sold out within two hours of the teams being announced,” said Bill McKenzie, general manager of the LaQuinta Arlington North on Six Flags Drive, which offers a free shuttle ride to AT&T Stadium for guests.

This year the Fighting Irish will play the Clemson Tigers in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday. It’s Notre Dame’s eighth appearance in the Cotton and Clemson’s second trip to North Texas.

Online ticket broker Stubhub says demand is high for the game.

“Currently, this year’s Cotton Bowl is the top-selling bowl game of the season on StubHub,” said Janelle Burdette, a company spokeswoman.

While Notre Dame has the national following, South Carolina, where Clemson is based, has the most out-of-state ticket sales for the Cotton Bowl, Burdette said.

Despite the excitement, some Notre Dame fans were holding out for a trip to the beach, according to the travel agency Sports Traveler.

“It’s interesting in terms of sale — we had more interest when fans thought they were going to the Orange Bowl,” said Anbritt Stengele, president of Sports Traveler.

The Notre Dame tour group, which will stay at the Hilton Arlington, will also be part of a large pregame party at Fishbone Grill and Sports Bar across the street from AT&T Stadium. The package costs $859 — airfare not included — for two nights at the hotel, transportation, pregame tailgate party and tickets to the game.

But Stengele said this will be a short trip for most of the customers. If it had been South Florida, Stengele said fans would have stayed a day or two longer to spend some time at the beach.

“It’s mostly quick trips in and out,” Stengele said. “Most guests are sticking to two nights for this event with requests to be close to the stadium. I’m expecting Arlington to be a sold-out situation.”

Clemson is staying at the HIlton Anatole in Dallas and Notre Dame is at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. Many of the pregame events take place at the Omni Dallas Hotel in downtown Dallas as well as the team hotels.

“I think we’ll see a ton of fans but we need more hotels to take full advantage of it,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams.

Under the current 12-year college football playoff rotation, the Cotton Bowl will host the semifinal game two more times. Even though it hosted the first national championship game between Ohio State and Oregon, AT&T Stadium is currently not scheduled to host the national championship game again.

By next year, a new Live! by Loews-Arlington will be open within walking distance of AT&T Stadium and next door to Texas Live! and Globe Life Field, the future home of the Texas Rangers.

Texas Live!, the 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex, is expecting its busiest day since opening last August with a pregame concert and postgame Orange Bowl watch party, according to CEO Jim Watry. The Clemson alumni groups will have a party on Friday night and Notre Dame’s alumni group will have a party on Saturday.

“We’re expecting fans from both schools to come and hang out,” Watry said.

And Randy Ford, owner of J. Gilligan’s in downtown Arlington, is expecting plenty of fans to take his $9 shuttle to the game and enjoy food and drinks both before and after the game. He’s still euphoric over the large Texas-OU crowds that turned out for the Big 12 Championship Game.

“It’s a big deal for us — it’s a big deal for everybody in Arlington,” Ford said. “I think there’s plenty to go around for everybody.”

Still, there will be fans from both schools holding out for a National Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Few fans — even the wealthy ones — can pull off back-to-back weekend trips, Stengele said.

Currently, there is talk of expanding the playoffs to eight teams, which might be good news for the sports travel industry and cities like Arlington.

“When you’re having the same teams over and over, it is not good for travel,” Stengele said. “You eventually tap out how many people want to make those trips over and over. Having some new teams in the mix — like Notre Dame this year — would certainly help.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.