With Flag Football and Dodgeball, Can the Pro Bowl Revamp Bring New Interest? | Sports Destination Management

With Flag Football and Dodgeball, Can the Pro Bowl Revamp Bring New Interest?

Annual Snoozefest to Receive a Long-Overdue Overhaul This Weekend
Jan 31, 2023 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Ah, the NFL Pro Bowl. Let’s take an inventory.

Starpower? Check.

Pageantry? Yeah, check.

Interest? (***crickets***)

Despite what could be a surefire recipe for success, the Pro Bowl, sandwiched between the AFC and NFC playoffs and the Super Bowl, has struggled to gain an audience. This year, say organizers, things will be different.

How different? A lot, according to the NFL, whose website notes, “The Pro Bowl Games presented by Verizon in Las Vegas in 2023 will be a week-long celebration of player skills, featuring a new format that spotlights flag football. The multi-day AFC vs. NFC competition will culminate in an action-packed flag game, featuring Pro Bowl players at Allegiant Stadium.”

Yes, flag football. And this is long overdue. After all, the Pro Bowl has become such a snoozefest because players (not just those headed for the Super Bowl but all players) refused to go all-out. Nobody wanted to risk a long-term injury for an essentially meaningless game and their lack of commitment came out loud and clear on the field.

Fansided synopsized the new format as follows:

With the new format, fans are sure to be curious how they can watch everything, whether they’re in attendance or watching at home. We’ve got you covered with the Pro Bowl 2023 schedule and the rules you need to know for the contests.

Pro Bowl 2023 schedule of events

  • Thursday, Feb. 2: Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball, Lightning Round, Longest Drive, Precision Passing, Best Catch (First Round)
  • Sunday, Feb. 5: Best Catch (Finale), Gridiron Gauntlet, Move the Chains, Kick Tac Toe, Pro Bowl Flag Football Game

The 2023 Pro Bowl schedule will happen across two days on Thursday, Feb. 2 and Sunday, Feb. 5. Thursday will feature a plethora of Skills Competition events including the always-fun dodgeball, a new contest called Lightning Round that will test various aspects of athleticism and timing, a golf long drive competition, Precision Passing returns, and a Best Catch competition will have the first rounds on Thursday as well.

For Sunday, the Best Catch will have its finals to determine the winners. The Gridiron Gauntlet relay returns, a new Move the Chains game, a return of Kick Tac Toe and then the 7-on-7 Pro Bowl Flag Football Games with the AFC taking on the NFC in the contest.

In all of these competitions, it will be the conferences competing against one another and there will be three points awarded to a player or team’s conference for winning a competition. The Pro Bowl Flag Football Games will be worth six points apiece.

The score from the competitions will then be the starting score for a third and final 7-on-7 flag football game that will use standard flag football scoring. Peyton Manning will coach the AFC while Eli Manning will coach the NFC.

The Fansided article also has the full details of each event and it’s definitely worth a read.

Pro Bowl OverhaulThe NFL’s overhaul of the game came after last year’s viewership hit an embarrassing low. The 2022 game averaged 6.69 million viewers across ABC, ESPN and DisneyXD, the smallest audience in 16 years — since ESPN averaged 5.96 million in 2006. And while there was speculation that the game was competing for viewers with the Winter Olympics, pundits noted that the audience for the two is vastly different.

Viewership had also declined 17% from the previous Pro Bowl three years ago (8.05M). Compared to the 2021 Pro Bowl “Celebration” — a two-hour special in lieu of the actual game — viewership unsurprisingly surged 263% from 1.84 million.

Historically, there long has been a call for a change to the Pro Bowl. In late January 2013, for example, Bleacher Report published an article, entitled “The Pro Bowl is the Most Worthless Game in Sports and Why the NFL Should Fix It.” The first line read, “It's time for the NFL to make a decision on the Pro Bowl—fix it or forget it.” The article went on to note that even the venerable Roger Goodell had taken to ESPN with a call for dropping the Pro Bowl:

Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio's "Town Hall," Goodell agreed with host Michael Strahan that [the previous] January's Pro Bowl "was embarrassing."

"If we cannot accomplish that kind of standard (of high play), I am inclined to not play it," Goodell said. "It is really tough to force competition, and after a long season, to ask those guys to go out and play at the same level they played is really tough."

The league still would select a Pro Bowl team through voting by players, coaches and fans, because it is an honor, but "just not play the game," he said.

Bleacher Report also noted that among the four all-star games (NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL), the Pro Bowl is far less interesting for a variety of reasons. In fact, it placed fourth in almost every one of the seven criteria: Timing, Side Events, Look/Feel (this pertained to how much it had the atmosphere of a regular game – albeit one played at a high level, with players everyone wanted to see), Drama, MVP Award and Overall. The only place the Pro Bowl ranked first was Location – because at the time, it was still being held in Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. Now that is gone and with it, the interest.

Whether this coming Pro Bowl, to be held this Sunday in Las Vegas, will prove to be the long-desired fix… well, that’s something everyone will have to find out. One thing is for certain, though: If this revamp does not result in more viewership for the game, the NFL will be forced to drop back and punt.

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