The ratings are in for the 2016 Pro Bowl, and they won't make for pleasant reading among the higher-ups in the NFL.
According to SportsBusiness Daily's Austin Karp, Sunday's game drew a 5.0 overnight rating, which is a drop from 2015 (5.6) and a steep decline from 2014 (6.7).
While Pro Bowl viewing is trending downward, one of Karp's colleagues at SportsBusiness Daily, John Ourand, noted the rating still remains high when compared to the rest of the sports landscape:
John Ourand @Ourand_SBJ
Likely lowest ever, but a 5.0 overnight still equates to a significant audience. https://t.co/VqbOd2uIir2016-2-1 16:57:16
Still, critics of the Pro Bowl will use the rating as more evidence in favor of scrapping the event altogether, or, at the very least, making a significant revamp to the game.
The relatively low viewership shouldn't come as a major surprise considering the number of replacements the league needed to call upon to fill the rosters for Team Irvin and Team Rice. A total of 133 players were either named to the Pro Bowl or added as an injury/Super Bowl replacement, which set a record, per the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert).
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote on Jan. 29 a not insignificant level of opposition to the Pro Bowl exists among NFL players:
I've heard from agents who say that some players are declining in order to send a message to the NFL that they want the game to die. I completely believe this.
"Players despise the game now more than ever in all the time I've been around the NFL," said one prominent agent who has been representing football players for decades. "They see it as not only a waste of time, but a detriment to their recovery process."
The idea the NFL could consider canceling the Pro Bowl isn't implausible. Commissioner Roger Goodell raised the prospect after the 2012 edition, per an appearance on Mike & Mike (via ESPN.com): "We're either going to have to improve the quality of what we're doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes or even considering eliminating the game if that's the kind of quality game we're going to provide."
He reiterated the same stance in October 2012, and in January 2014, Domonique Foxworth, then-president of the NFL Players Association, said Goodell was "very serious" in 2012 about following through with the plan, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today.
Goodell may have to discuss the topic again following a toxic combination of player apathy and poor TV ratings.
If interest in the Pro Bowl continues to decline, both on behalf of fans and players, the league will have a much harder time justifying the need for the game.