The discussion never seems to completely disappear. Does the NFL (or anyone else, for that matter) really need the Pro Bowl?
At a meeting of NFL owners last month in Atlanta, discussions focused on potential “alternatives to the weeklong Pro Bowl celebration, which could include the elimination of the traditional tackle game,” according to ESPN.com.
In its place, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he would consider turning the Pro Bowl into something more like a party. “I think the conclusion [of discussions] was that the game itself doesn’t work,” Goodell told reporters. “And we need to find another way to celebrate our players. … [The goal is] to celebrate that these are our Pro Bowl players, the best players in our league, and give them an opportunity to celebrate that with our fans. We’ve talked about some of the events around the Pro Bowl are really, extremely popular, whether the quarterback challenge or some of the other events. So those are some of the things we will continue to discuss.”
Mark Maske, an NFL reporter with The Washington Post, tweeted that “[t]here could be a seven-on-seven competition, for instance, but not a full game with tackling.”
Other pundits had some thoughts, too.
They can talk about it all they want. The commissioner at one point huffed and puffed and threatened to blow the Pro Bowl’s house down. In recent years, the complaining has stopped. It stopped because it’s impossible to reconcile player health and safety with expecting them to beat the crap out of each other in an exhibition game.
If the league gets rid of the Pro Bowl game, it needs to replace it with something else that will be as profitable. Unless the league is willing to give up the revenue it generates in exchange for avoiding a day or two of people complaining about the Pro Bowl being the joke that it should be, because players should not be blocking and tackling and hitting that late in the season.
The proposed changes to the Pro Bowl could come soon. And as in soon, I mean soon enough to cancel the 2023 game. The sense I got from folks at the league meeting is that, really, there’s no reason to keep going forward with an event that clearly falls short of the NFL standard and has more recently become a little embarrassing for the league. And as for replacing it, the word that keeps coming up is “celebration” … as in the league wants it to be a “celebration” of its best players. This, then, will be where I advocate for them going to Peyton Manning for ideas on how to reinvent the event for the NFL’s best — whether that includes on-field stuff such as a 7-on-7 game and big-man challenge or not. Back when the game was in Hawaii, Manning had become its de facto mayor, holding court daily by the pool and turning it into the sort of elite-of-the-elite get-together that players wanted to be a part of. I think that should be the future of the event, regardless of how you dress it up. Make it a resource for the game’s biggest stars, and give them reason to show up. Like I said, I think Manning would be the best guy to go to for ideas on how to do that.
They always say all-star games are for the fans, but unless it’s baseball, the fans don’t actually seem to care. What it really is, in the NFL, is way to make more money via broadcast rights, commercials, sponsorships, etc.
So if the NFL really did do away with the Pro Bowl, no one would likely notice.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The league and its bookkeepers would notice. It does generate revenue, despite the fact it’s little more than two-hand touch in shoulder pads and helmets.
In the NFL, the bottom line is always the bottom line. If the Pro Bowl goes away, the league may just come up with something even dumber to make up for the revenue. So maybe the Pro Bowl isn’t the worst idea, after all.
The NFL has played a traditional Pro Bowl game since 1951. Over the years, a variety of festivities have surrounded the game — including dodgeball, throwing competitions and skills challenges. For decades, between 1980 and 2016, the game was played in Hawaii (except in 2010 and 2015). The most recent Pro Bowl was held in February at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. According to Pro Football Focus, the game attracted just 6.69 million viewers across all platforms — the lowest since 2006.
For what it’s worth, the 2023 Pro Bowl is slated for Feb. 5 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.