As National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Weekend comes to an end and its immense success, the decline in popularity of the National Football League’s (NFL) Pro Bowl has become even more apparent. This year’s Pro Bowl game reached an all time low in ratings and the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better soon. Since 2013, the Pro Bowl has seen a steady decline in ratings, from 7.7 to 5.0 out of 10.0 in a matter of three years.
This downturn has once again forced the NFL into discussions about removing the Pro Bowl altogether.
“I think our biggest standard has to be what we expect from the NFL and what our fans expect from the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in his annual state-of-the-league address. “It’s not the kind of [Pro Bowl] that I think we want to continue to have in its current format, based on what we saw last week.”
Goodell has previously suggested that removing the game would be the best course of action for the upcoming seasons.
However, completely cutting the Pro Bowl out of the NFL schedule should not be the league’s response to a sub-par showing. Revisions can be made by taking inspiration from other sports and suggestions from fans.
One request called for is the skills competition. Although discontinued in 2007 due to its low popularity, many fans have been calling for it on social media. If the NFL was to increase its publicity and broadcast the event live, it could potentially build into an event similar to the NBA’s three-point shootout, slam dunk contest and skills challenge.
Previous NFL skills competitions have included the 40-yard dash, throwing for accuracy, kicking for distance and the bench press. Other challenges could include various tests run in the NFL Combine, an annual event in Chicago where college graduates demonstrate their skill set to NFL scouts. Such additions could pique the interest of viewers.
Additionally, more incentive should be given to encourage popular athletes to participate in the events. In the recent years, many players who were initial selections to the Pro Bowl have deferred, simply due to lack of interest or physical health concerns. Last year, the team that won the Pro Bowl collectively received $55,000 while the losers took $28,000, an insignificant amount for professional athletes. If the stakes were higher and a greater reward was given out, perhaps more athletes would be willing to participate.
This year’s Pro Bowl game reached an all time low in ratings and the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better soon.
If money does not prove to be the correct solution, then pride could factor in as well. By giving players a chance to defend their dignity and gain bragging rights, more effort would be displayed. A format such as rookies versus veterans could be a way to dig up this pride factor. The younger players would have the chance to claim that they have beaten a 2-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player while the older-players would have their name to uphold.
Another alternative that could work is pitting players against each other based on their roots. Players generally have strong and loyal ties to where they were raised from so having them represent their hometown or region could serve as another way to provide incentive for competition.
Fans can also be used to persuade players to play harder during the Pro Bowl. Since athletes owe their supporters their career as their source of income, showing respect back would be sensible for every football player. By having the MVP of the Pro Bowl’s team host the following year’s Super Bowl, there would be an incentive for fans to want their team’s representative to perform well, thus translating into incentive for the players to perform well. Extending beyond the fans, the city that could potentially host the Super Bowl would see their popularity rise, to add an even greater impact.
Pride, loyalty, fans and location all serve as universal incentives for athletes. It’s about time the NFL chooses to use those traits to make the Pro Bowl great again.