How the NFL Can Save the Pro Bowl in Five Easy Steps


The NFL Pro Bowl is on life support.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortenson, Commissioner Roger Goodell is unhappy with the quality of the event and is considering putting it on ice for this season – and possibly forever.

All-Star games are an interesting problem for professional sports leagues.  Even Major League Baseball, the sport that has what is considered the best all-around product in the genre – “The Mid-Summer Classic” – has had its share of issues over the years.  The NBA treats their All-Star Game as a festival-type event, with skills competitions and celebrity games filling up a full weekend of basketball goodness.  The NHL has tinkered with several different formats, including the USA vs. The World game, and also utilizes skills competitions to enhance their show.  All three of those games are played mid-season, and supply a much needed break over the course of their long regular seasons.  The NFL runs a tight ship in regards to their schedule, and in a 17-week season it would be nearly impossible to schedule the Pro Bowl for a mid-season game.

Player commitment to the game is another issue.  The players scheduled to play in the Super Bowl will never play in an exhibition game the week before, nor should they even be asked to do so.  Players with even minor injuries bow out, making the voting process a sham.  Numerous players voted in to start sit out the game, allowing the alternates to take their place.  The game becomes nothing more than a poorly played scrimmage game, and playing it in Hawaii provides nothing but a nice vacation for players who can afford to take whatever vacation they want.  Real football fans are who gets the shaft with the Pro Bowl.  Hawaii is expensive, and a Pro Bowl trip for the average fan is out of the question.  Therefore, you have an exhibition game being played in a tropical setting 2,000 miles away from the nearest NFL city, with players who are only there because it is in their contract and they have incentives built in for their attendance.

How does the NFL save the Pro Bowl?  Here are five easy steps the league can take to preserve their All Star game, while creating an event that real football fans can attend.

1.  Play the game Two Weeks AFTER the Super Bowl – playing the Pro Bowl two weeks after the Super Bowl will give the league a chance to involve all players from all teams, making the Pro Bowl a season finale that caps off the league year.  Players already have economic reasons to play in the game, built into their contracts as incentives.  We will get into player selection shortly.

2.  Rotate the Pro Bowl through different NFL cities – Since 1979, the Pro Bowl has been played in Honolulu, with the exception of 2009 when the game was played in Miami – the host city for the Super Bowl that season.  Prior to 1979, the game was played all over – from Texas Stadium to The Kingdome to Tampa Stadium to the Superdome – even Arrowhead Stadium got a game in 1973, drawing 66,918 fans on January 20.  The NFL should look into a rotation that would be similar to the MLB All-Star Game, with cities vying for a chance to host the game.  The Pro Bowl could become a Fan fest-type weekend in that city, drawing fans from around the country and injecting solid revenue into the region that hosts it.  Hall of Fame displays, autograph signings, and fan-friendly events that would entice families to attend could be added.  The NFL could market it as a “give back” to their loyal supporters and market it as an end-of-season “thank you” to NFL Nation.

The NFL currently has ten domed stadiums available for hosting the game – Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, The Metrodome in Minneapolis, Ford Field in Detroit, Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Reliant Stadium in Houston, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.  The league also could consider hosting the game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, keeping their eye on the prize that is the Canadian fan base with potential for a franchise in Toronto within the next decade.  Other stadiums that could host the Pro Bowl based off of weather conditions are Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Candlestick Park in San Fransisco, LP Field in Nashville, EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and Oakland Coliseum in Oakland.  All of those stadiums would provide sufficient weather conditions for an outdoor Pro Bowl in February.  If the league wanted a truly diverse game, they could even consider hosting it in cold-weather cities with traditional fan bases such as Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, Gillette Stadium in New England, and Soldier Field in Chicago.  Those stadiums would obviously provide cold weather for the Pro Bowl, but in a sport lauded for its roots in bad weather – why not give a cold weather Pro Bowl a shot?  The league could incorporate the host city into the uniforms for the teams, maybe adding a bit of local symbolism to the uniforms and fan gear for the event.  They could create a new logo for each game that utilizes a local monument, in the shade of what MLB does for each All Star Game.

Similar to the Olympics, MLB All-Star Game, and even Wrestlemania, cities would place bids on hosting the game five years out, giving each city a chance to win the bid and have time to adjust scheduling conflicts and arrange for the influx of fans to fill hotels and spend their money at local establishments.  It could be a vital event for smaller NFL cities that would “spread the wealth” around in a league that is built on the ideology to do so.  Moving the game around would create a “big game” atmosphere that the Pro Bowl is missing and allow the NFL to showcase the cities that may never be in line for a Super Bowl bid.

3.  Create an incentive for the teams to compete to win the game – MLB instituted a rule a few years back that the winner of the game would get home field advantage in the World Series for their league.  The rule has created a buzz for the game and has turned what was always a competitive exhibition game into a meaningful battle.  It has also affected the World Series, with home field advantage allowing teams to host an extra home game in the Fall Classic – a certified advantage over the competition.  Since the NFL does not use a “home field” for the Super Bowl, another incentive could be considered.  What if the winner of the Pro Bowl was given the opportunity for their league representative to choose home or away in the Super Bowl?  This is traditionally rotated, but if used as an incentive for the Pro Bowl it would basically allow the winning conference the chance to have their representative Super Bowl team declare themselves the home team in order to wear the uniform of their choosing, or declare themselves the away team and control the opening coin toss.  It is the best possible scenario to add incentive to the game, without delving into some type of preferred scheduling for the following season.  Another possibility could that each squad chooses a charity of their choice and the winner of the game is allowed to present a $1.0 million check form the AFC or NFC to their charity at games end, another gesture of gratitude and an easy way to gain instant credibility for the contest.

Incentive would be the first step to turning the game into more than a walk-through scrimmage.  If played two weeks after the Super Bowl, teams and coaching staffs would have two full weeks of game planning and perhaps be able to treat the game more like a regular season game.  This would amp up the caliber of play, and in turn create a better on-field product.

2.  End the voting and turn the Pro Bowl into a Fantasy Football Draft, televised the week prior to the Super Bowl – Each conference would employ a team of five former Pro Bowl MVP players for their conference.  Those players would go on TV and draft their teams in a televised event that would create a buzz in the ever-growing fantasy football community.  Imagine a team of AFC Captains (say, Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Marshall Faulk, Warren Moon, and Rich Gannon) picking their team against an NFC Team (how about Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, Phil Simms, Joe Theismann, and Derrick Brooks) in a one-hour televised fantasy draft?  Fans would tune in in droves to see what players would be representing their teams and conference, and it would create rivalry between the conferences in a sport where the lines between the AFC and NFC have been blurred over the years.  Rivalry is good, it creates a buzz.  Players would take to social media to pull for their teammates, as would the millions of fans for each team.  The Pro Bowl would become the biggest fantasy football game of the year.

1.  Put the game on in Prime Time as the final Monday Night Football game of the season – Taking the game out of Hawaii gives the NFL the chance to take the Pro Bowl to prime time on a major network.  Advertisers would line up to be a part of the newly crafted game and overall, the Pro Bowl would become another major event on an NFL calender that has a large break in the action post-Super Bowl and pre-NFL Draft.

It is a long shot that the Pro Bowl even exists after this season, but if the league would consider some of these ideas they could have a potential major event to end their calender year.  Giving the Pro Bowl its own personality and getting away from the generic uniforms and generic play calling would make it a real NFL game.

So, fellow NPC readers….what do you think?  Can we save the Pro Bowl?


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