The Problem With The NFL Pro-Bowl Game
Written by; Joe Kwan
While the Pro Bowl is one way the NFL celebrates its best players, the game itself is boring and hard to watch. Between its lack of meaning and effort by the players, the Pro Bowl is increasingly becoming a waste of time.
The current Pro Bowl is bad for the sport. A game where no one puts in the effort to play defense or even tackle is embarrassing for the NFL. The lackluster game has caused dropping ratings and increased opt-outs. (For example the star quarterback from the Buffalo Bill, Josh Allen claiming he’s opting out of the game for injury purposes while the truth is that he wanted to compete in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament) Improving the quality of the Pro Bowl would not only increase ratings for the game, but would also promote a better image of the NFL.
The Pro Bowl is a season-end game played by the players and coaches considered to be the best from teams in the NFL. The NFL has experimented with other roster selection methods in the past, but the current rosters consist of the best players from the AFC and NFC. The game is meant to be an entertaining finish to the season and a warmup for fans before the Super Bowl that occurs the following weekend.
But the game is far from entertaining and the ratings prove that. Pro Bowl viewership has decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. Peaking at 13.4 million viewers in 2011, the Pro Bowl has not received the same pull and even reached a low of 7.6 million viewers in 2017.
One reason for the sharp decline in viewership is the game’s unimportance. There are no stakes in the Pro Bowl. The winner of the game has no true incentive besides slight monetary gain (for there standards) — an additional $80,000.
The game takes place in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Unlike the NBA, MLB and NHL’s all-star games — which occur midway through their respective seasons — the Pro Bowl consists of players who have already completed their seasons. The game features little, if any, defense at all and becomes a glorified contest of 7 x 7 flag football. Many prominent players selected to the Pro Bowl choose to opt-out of the game. For example Josh Allen, Joe Burrow and TJ Watt.
The Pro Bowl is not a good representation of the NFL’s best players. Some of the league’s most feared and powerful players shouldn’t be represented by a game of flag football. One of the most memorable Pro Bowl plays was a vicious hit from safety Sean Taylor onto punter Brian Moorman from 2006. Intensity like that simply is not seen nearly enough in recent Pro Bowl games.
The 2022 game saw a high-scoring affair, with the AFC winning 41-35. Despite the offensive display, current players questioned the efforts of the players. #ProBowl was trending on social media for the wrong reasons.
The Pro Bowl Skills Showdown is the most entertaining part of Pro Bowl weekend. The precision passing, fastest man, threading the needle, best catch and dodgeball are events that the Pro Bowl should build upon. The NFL should bring more events in — such as a strongest man or fastest non skill position player (OL, DE etc.) — to properly display the talents of the Pro Bowlers with an amusing twist. But even with the Skills Showdown, the game has to take strides to improve ratings.
To better the actual game, the NFL should give incentives for winning Pro Bowl MVP and to the winning team. A possible incentive could be that they can reward home-field advantage in the Super Bowl for the winning conference — which would allow the team to choose which jersey to wear and the home locker room in the Super Bowl stadium. Upping the ante will make the Pro Bowl more competitive, and make it more entertaining.
The NFL is growing at rapid rates and the game’s superstars are becoming even better. An improved Pro Bowl is needed to showcase the league’s talent. The game doesn’t have to be perfect but it cannot exist in its current state. The NFL should be embarrassed and look for ways to improve upon the Pro Bowl.
Interestingly enough the NBA has a problem the exact opposite then of what the NFL has. The NBA All-Star game excludes a lot of top tier talent from across the league do to its limited roster spots for the game and the substantial amount of talent in which the league features. Leading to so called All-Star “snubs”, players that deserve to make the team but don’t, leading many fans to suggest larger All-Star team rosters. While that’ll help adding more talent, it does take away from the exclusivity of the event. But this is a problem the NFL would dream of having, instead of having Tyler Huntly and Derek Carr as Pro-Bowlers they’d be able to showcase Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, two of the faces of the league.