The National Football League announced on Wednesday the 2015 Pro Bowl will take place at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, which is also the site of next year's Super Bowl, before returning to Aloha Stadium in Hawaii for the 2016 Pro Bowl.
A full release on the decision to shift the spotlight event to Arizona for one year was posted on the league's official communications site. It noted the game will once again take place the week prior to the Super Bowl:
The Pro Bowl following the 2014 season will be played on Sunday, January 25, 2015 and televised live on ESPN at 8 PM ET from University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX a week later on Sunday, February 1. The Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee will host the Pro Bowl and surrounding activities.
Among the other information provided is the fact an agreement remains in place between the NFL and Hawaii to host future Pro Bowl games in Hawaii, but further details about the status of those contests won't be provided until a later date.
With the Arizona Cardinals becoming directly involved in putting the Pro Bowl together ahead of the Super Bowl, the team's vice president of media relations, Mark Dalton, notes it's the most watched All-Star game and drew more than 11 million viewers:
Pro Bowl was watched by 11.4 M viewers last yr (despite competing directly w Grammys); most watched All-Star gm of any sport— MarkDalton (@CardsMarkD) April 9, 2014
Those numbers are important because there has been a lot of talk in recent years about the long-term viability of the Pro Bowl. The concerns mostly surround the lack of competitiveness in the game as compared to the regular season.
The high viewership shows there's still widespread appeal. Perhaps the change in format, which saw teams captained by legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders use a fantasy draft to create the rosters instead of basing them on conference, helped the cause.
What should be done with the Pro Bowl?
Even though the game was still toned down, it was far more watchable thanks to increased defensive effort leading to some actual resistance for the high-powered offenses. The 43 total points (22-21 Team Rice) was the lowest combined score since 2005.
Ultimately, moving the Pro Bowl around with the Super Bowl on a regular basis is probably the best option for the NFL. The focus of the football universe is already on the area, in this case Arizona, and would likely help drive interest.
If the Pro Bowl can be more competitive like it was before this year's Super Bowl and create things like the fantasy draft to drive interest, it should survive.
But keeping the on-field product as close to the real thing as possible without asking players to go full speed and risk injury will remain a delicate balance.