NFL Pro Bowl: How to Save It and Make It Fan-Friendly at the Same Time

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NFL Pro Bowl: How to Save It and Make It Fan-Friendly at the Same Time
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Brandon Marshall Accepting the 2010 NFL Pro Bowl Game MVP

The latest NFL Pro Bowl played in Hawaii this past Sunday saw basically a glorified flag football game in pads, with the AFC winning 59-41 over the NFC and Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall setting a record with four touchdown catches.  It has gotten to the point it is almost unbearable to watch.

Honestly, when I played flag football for my fraternity in college we hit harder than what these guys do during this game.

The NFL has toyed with the Pro Bowl the last few years to try to save it by moving it before the Super Bowl and alternating from Hawaii to the host Super Bowl city.  None of this has worked.  Over the past 10 years, the Pro Bowl has become less and less relevant as salaries have climbed.  You can throw TV ratings out of the conversation as well, as it will be watched by hardcore fans no matter what because it is the only football game on television at the time. 

Let’s be honest here.  The players don’t want to be there (other than the free vacation), as they have just gotten the teetotal crap beaten out of them for 17 weeks plus training camp.  Coaches and owners don’t want them there as they don’t want to risk a cornerstone of their franchise that makes millions of dollars a year getting hurt in a freak injury situation. 

What happens if a lineman rolls up on another player’s leg and he tears his knee up?  What happens if a player plants wrong and hurts his knee or ankle?  What happens if a running back or wide receiver lands wrong and dislocates a shoulder or worse?  What happens if someone gets a concussion and ends up like Sidney Crosby of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins?  

The dangers are just too high for a game that means nothing.  The only All-Star game that is relevant is the MLB game (I have written about this fallacy as well) and that is because home-field advantage in the World Series rides on it and that does not apply to the NFL.

The changes I will talk about below will revamp everything except the voting process.  This will make the entire process after the season player-friendly, fan-friendly, and the coaches and owners will not have to worry about players getting injured.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

First you make a rule that the Super Bowl is always two weeks after the season as it has been for the past few years.  You name the week before the Super Bowl “Pro Bowl Week."  You have it in the host city of the Super Bowl. 

All players injured or not can attend and be a part of the festivities.  You even name replacements for injured players and let them go just like you do now.  Right now Pro Bowl fans are getting robbed as anyone that makes it to the Super Bowl doesn’t get to participate.

Super Bowl week is already a huge deal and by adding “Pro Bowl Week” to it, you only add to the excitement for the fans. 

You schedule a week of festivities for the people in the Pro Bowl and you open them to the fans.  The NFL would set up something like a “Pro Bowl Experience” and allow fans to purchase tickets to enter.   They could get players autographs, play games, etc.  You make it as fan-friendly as possible.  Even the players from Super Bowl teams could participate once their obligations to their teams and the NFL are over.  

The NFL could then get a corporate sponsor like Dr. Pepper and the SEC do for the SEC Championship game.  Once the corporate sponsor is determined you set up a flag football tournament, a volleyball tournament, golf, miniature golf, rock wall climbing, video game competitions—and the list could go on with whatever the NFL decided it wanted to do.  They could even poll the fans online to see what contests would be offered.  

For the flag football and volleyball tournaments, you would have teams made up of half Pro Bowlers and half fans that would be chosen in a national campaign through the sponsor where they would mail in entries or enter online.   You would have a round-robin tournament in each and have the championships for both events on Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl. 

In all the other events, except golf, you would choose participants by random draw at the “Pro Bowl Experience."  You could have one of these daily to allow more fans to be involved.  For golf you would have a random draw for people that enter at the “Pro Bowl Experience” and play on Sunday morning of the Super Bowl.  You could tee off at 8 a.m. and all groups would be done by mid-afternoon with plenty of time to get ready for the big game. 

All these events would only take up a portion of the day and the players would get to spend time with their families and enjoy themselves while the fans get to enjoy the “Pro Bowl Experience” village all day and night while they are there. 

It is time for the NFL to give some back to its fans and take advantage of its growing popularity.  It would go along way with soaring ticket prices, concession prices and the lockout and let the fans get out to see and meet their favorite players, even the ones who are playing in the Super Bowl.  If Super Bowl players are involved in this, it may keep some of them from going out and partying and getting into trouble, which seems to happen to someone almost every year.   

Listen up, NFL—give back to the fans and realize they deserve it because without them, you don’t have a product.  Not to mention the money the “Pro Bowl Experience” would make the NFL and the host city by more and more fans becoming involved.

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