The tradition of nearly all major sports is to celebrate the best within its league. Awards go to a select few that are the top of the sport that year. After MVP-based awards, the all-star game format would be the next facet to recognizing greatness.
The NFL elected to name its game the Pro Bowl, and the nature of how football is players forces the game from midseason to the end of the year. Otherwise, it mirrors other all-star gamea in picking the league’s best players at each given position as voted upon.
The tradition of taking those stars to Hawaii for a fun-filled exhibition week following up the excitement of the Super Bowl is as much a part of the experience as the star-studded game itself. For 30 years, the NFL has played the Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl and in Aloha Stadium, not easy access to those living in the continental United States, but a great backdrop for the celebratory event.
This year’s 41-34 shootout marked a break in that tradition. In an attempt to milk more revenue from the event, the NFL played the game a week before the Super Bowl, and in the same city as the upcoming NFL championship, Miami.
It was a move unpopular with players who were still bumped and bruised from the regular season and upset at the less rewarding locale. Fans initially marked the move with indifference, but opinion shifted against the choice as players either dropped out, or could not play due to more important commitments (read: super bowl).
The move sparked little added interest coupled with frustration at the watered-down rosters devoid of nearly half the names voted there. The light rain that pattered down across the game’s length further served to accent the altered venue.
It was, however, a success in a more measurable sense. The 70,697 in attendance far exceeded anything Aloha Stadium saw and was in fact the highest attendance for the game since 1959’s Los Angeles Pro Bowl.
ESPN also reported a 7.9 share in viewership. That marks a 39 percent jump in ratings from last year’s Pro Bowl despite the former game having the advantage of a national broadcast on NBC. Those 12.3 million viewers made it the most watched Pro Bowl in the past decade.
That could bode poorly for upcoming Pro Bowls. The next two years have already been slated for Hawaii after the one-year alteration. However, that will not prevent Commissioner Roger Goodell from enacting change on tradition. He already stated the success will cause him to consider keeping the game before the Super Bowl next year despite the return to its usual locale.
The league also has not decided upon what to do with the Pro Bowl in 2013 and beyond. A stadium that was three-quarters empty as the game ended was still a stadium that was sold out when the game began.
As long as that type of bottom-line can be shown on paper, the commissioner and other NFL executives have no reason to deviate from this year’s altered format regardless of how many players bow out or simply get themselves thrown out (Bryant McKinnie) thanks to the new setup.
Players can gripe, fans can complain, but neither can talk like money, and this year's ticket sales and viewership say it loud.