This week the usual lament when on that has flowed the Pro Bowl almost since its existence; after all Vince Lombardi once called it “The Toilet Bowl” because of its lack of insignificance, and Bill Parcells often found ways around coaching in the game because the losers of the NFC and AFC title games are sent to man the sidelines. No one cares, there is no interest etc etc.
Yet for all the whining; the Pro Bowl, especially as it is now positioned the week prior to the Super Bowl and this year in the host city, will draw World Series-like numbers for ESPN, outdraw or come close to the coverage of the in-season NHL All-Star Game Sunday, will provide some real-time test cases for new rules and technology, has the support of NFL partners, is enjoyed by fans in market, and has the support of the NFLPA and the players?
So how is the Pro Bowl not a changing success? Ken Belson in Sunday’s New York Times goes into detail on how this year’s Pro Bowl, albeit one that will not “make money” (not that every project done by the NFL has to be in the black per se), has helped turn the tide for the game and for what it means in terms of social and digital activation and as an attendance draw for the Phoenix/Glendale area. He talks about how former NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth worked with the players to increase the competitive level of the game and make it what it is, a respectable exhibition and compilation of talent.
The game itself certainly doesn’t have the flash and buzz of a the NBA All-Star Game or the MLB All-Star game, both of which are done in season and have the representation of all stars from all teams, with the Pro Bowl missing the participants this year from the Seahawks and Patriots. What it does bring is added value to the host city this year, a nice add on for sponsors, and quality live content for an NFL partner (ESPN) on a night that may have had replays of other paid programming and it kicks off a great week of in-depth coverage with an actual live game.
There was a time not too long ago where the Pro Bowl was reaching irrelevance, tucked away in Hawaii as media and fans turned their thoughts to pitchers and catchers. However the league has found a way, through engagement and technology, to make the game relevant at least to fans looking to see their stars one more time and for a sport always looking to find ways to be innovative, and for that reason, the game seems to have a place right now. If you ask other leagues if they would like a prime time spotlight with a solid rating and a chance for brand activation and entertainment that doesn’t detract from the other goings-on with the league, the guess would be it would be welcomed.
It’s certainly not a perfect success or a solution or even a necessity, but the game seems to meet many criteria for being a worthwhile event. Just ask the thousands in the stands or probably a few million watching on TV.