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Pro Bowl: Road to Recovery or On The Way Out?

[lead align=”default”]The week between the NFL conference championships and Super Bowl is most famous for being the weekend people can get their housework done between football. Oh, and the Pro Bowl.[/lead]

You probably remember the days when the Pro Bowl was after the Super Bowl, and in Hawaii. The days of both are gone, with the game now before the Super Bowl and hosted in Orlando, as if either will make a difference.

It’s no secret that in a country that craves American football, the Pro Bowl is one of the least talked about sporting events of the winter. Is that actually the case, and is this football game going the way of the dodo?

Pro Bowl: All Is Well, ALL IS WELL!

Camping World Stadium will be full on fans tonight when this game is played. That is according to the National Football League themselves, blaring the news of a sellout crowd to the media.

The capacity of the stadium is 65,000, which isn’t a bad haul. Consider that this is being played in Orlando, Florida as opposed to Honolulu, Hawaii. For most of the previous 36 years, Hawaii was the game’s home, but who the hell was going to fly out there for that? Given that a lot more people live in Florida, the numbers move was right. (Full disclosure: the attendance in Hawaii was good, too.)

Previously, this game also experimented with a “fantasy draft” format that drew a collective yawn from the fans. This year, it’s back to AFC-NFC, and that just makes more sense. They have also added a skills competition, like the other major pro sports leagues have (NHL and NBA have it, and MLB has the Home Run Derby). The NFL finally caught up to the rest of them, and that’s a nice quirk.

Pro Bowl: Pull The Plug

Fans of the sport are well-acquainted with criticisms of the NFL’s all-star competition. Most importantly, it’s a meaningless game in which NFL players don’t want to play. According to the Washington Post, 37 players declined an invitation to play this year.

Some, of course, may be preparing for the Super Bowl. Others don’t want to get injured in a game that has no value to themselves or their careers, which is most likely the dominant view.

There is a long list of additional rules for the Pro Bowl to increase the safety level. One of them is that you can’t blitz, and another is that a quarterback can intentionally ground the football. Finally, there are no kickoffs, so special teams are only a fraction as relevant. In other words, it’s barely competitive football at all. The list of softer rules is long and almost humorous. It makes you think of Randy Marsh coaching the South Park team.

It’s not even so much a football game as a watered-down exhibition that nobody outside the stadium will watch. The ratings have been in steady decline over the years, and player interest is limited. In another possible desperation move to try to spice things up, the NFL has considered proposals to move the game outside North America.

Foreign venues were considered to be the site of this game, including Sydney, New South Wales. You know that if they’re thinking about it now, they’ll think about it again down the road. With a commissioner like Roger Goodell who is all hot and bothered about putting a team in Europe, this isn’t going away.

The Bottom Line

As with anything ever, including the college football bowl games, as long as the Pro Bowl continues to generate revenue, it will happen. If the NFL loses money on it consistently, they will shelf it. There’s no mystery or guesswork to it. This year, playing in a sold-out stadium on the United States mainland, there will be a stay of execution for this mostly unheralded game.

While the NFL home office must be doing cartwheels over the 2017 Pro Bowl being sold out, let’s see how this goes in a couple years. The fact that they feel they have to bounce the game outside the United States to drum up interest is a sign that its days could be numbered. It’s never going to be an event embraced by a wide swath of fans. Yet, as long as it’s profitable, it’s staying.

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