Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Every January, fans and the media want to fix how the NFL does its version of an all-star game, but can the Pro Bowl be fixed? Click here for the Pro Bowl kickoff time and TV schedule.
Months ago, you and several million other fans logged on and voted for your favorite players, regardless of how deserving they are for All-Star consideration. Rosters are announced as quickly as we all forgot about voting. That's followed by three hours and a small flood of blog posts deeply concerned with the injustice of the rosters.
The Pro Bowl news cycle last week shifted to exasperated pleas for fixing the thing. By Sunday afternoon, nobody cares anymore, not until next January anyway.
The NFL doesn't really know what to do with the Pro Bowl. A few players, most notably Aaron Rodgers, have been public in their criticism of the game. A few others, Peyton Manning most recently, appealed to fans and his fellow players to embrace the thing.
Fans say they don't really like the Pro Bowl. The ratings suggest that a few fans like it enough to watch, roughly 12 million of them. That's more than enough to sell ad space in primetime television. Those ratings beat anything Major League Baseball turned out last year, including the World Series, which sunk to record low television ratings.
As far as NFL ratings go, the Pro Bowl doesn't measure up, pulling in less than half of what a regular season game does. More troubling for the folks at 345 Park Ave. is that the Pro Bowl ratings are slipping, dropping eight percent from 2011 to 2012. The league knows it has to do something with the Pro Bowl, but what?
Everybody wants to change the Pro Bowl. Figuring out how to change it is proving to be a little tougher than imagined. We turned to our NFL team bloggers for some suggestions on how to fix the game.
From Josh Kirkendall at Cincy Jungle:
You could provide financial incentives with the hope that they play harder, motivated with pride to help their conference win. But as long as defenses aren't allowed to blitz or do much of anything that made them all stars in the first place, you're not going to get the desired effort of some memorable all-star game. And ask any one of us if they'd be happy with a hard fought all-star game at the cost of their best player going down with a major injury. It's just not that important to risk.
You can't fix this game. You can't expect players after 16 regular season games, plus training camp and preseason, to add one more game of no consequence. Idle Roger Goodell threats notwithstanding, people watch so place it in the "it is what it is" file and move on.
However they could promote skills like the Home Run derby, prime time events on Saturday night like the old skill competitions years ago. I don't think you'll get more out of the game at this point, but the weekend as a whole has plenty of potential.
Christopher Gates at the Daily Norseman had a suggestion from one of his readers:
A commenter in one of our threads about it had a good idea, I thought. . .steal the NBA's idea and have a "rookies vs. sophomores" game.
Jack Finney from Cat Scratch Reader raises a point about the rosters that alienate some fans:
I think they would be smart to require at least one player from every team like baseball does (or used to do anyway, not sure). Right now zero Panthers are going to the PB so I could not care a flying fuq about the game honestly.
Bruce from Baltimore Beatdown echoes one of the more popular sentiments:
Why not a Superstars competition, with the winner of each position meeting in the finals of a multi-event competition like the old TV show which a lot of you won't remember,but was always great!
Changing the financial incentives for players was a common theme. Kevin from Hogs Haven suggested changing the payout for winners and losers:
They should make the payouts more lopsided. I believe its 60K for winners and $45K for losers. The players already get free trip and hotel to Hawaii...make it $100k for winners and $5k for losers.
Kevin also suggested this:
Or maybe have the lingerie all stars play the NFL all stars. They can stuff Adrian Peterson I'm sure.
A couple bloggers even suggested keeping the game as it is. Jason Brewer from Bleeding Green Nation puts it simply:
I say just leave it as is. This is all its ever been. This isn't like the MLB all star game that used to actually be something. The Pro Bowl is what its always been. Who has ever honestly tuned in expecting or even wanting to see a competitive game?
Here's Neal Coolong from Behind the Steel Curtain:
This may not be the popular or fun answer, but I promise you, it's the only one the league will entertain; leave it exactly as it is. There's a reason Peyton Manning reached out to all Pro Bowl players this year asking them to take it seriously. The league wants the elder statesmen to send a message so you don't get Cam Newton playing as if he's got a red jersey on and not even try to tackle after interceptions. And when you have the Tom Bradys of the league basically claiming allergy to the state of Hawaii each and every year, the message gets sent to the younger guys they don't have to play in it if they don't want.
They're doing that not just to create some kind of reason for people to watch, but to try to protect what's left of the integrity of the game in the future. They don't have an alternative. This is what it has to be.
They shouldn't have to "try," but there's no other way to play this game.
The NBA has it good. There are a billion different ways to play basketball (3-point contest, dunk contest, Horse, rookies vs. sophomores, etc). There's no other way to play the game of football - or at least not one that doesn't bring out the risks players inherently face (with even less guaranteed money than their counterparts in MLB and the NBA) at an even higher level.
We remember Robert Edwards playing rookie sand football one year. Seemed like a great idea at the time. Did he ever play again? Could a guy blow out his Achilles running a 40-yard-dash competitively? Can a QB (GASP!) blow out a rotator cuff in a throwing distance contest? Players aren't going to want to do anything other than playing the game the way they practice it.
I think our expectations are the problem. Anyone who honestly tunes in to watch a "competitive" game is being pretty unrealistic for very obvious reasons. And if they can't watch football for fun, there's nothing they can do to increase it's appeal.
We take the NFL extremely seriously. Personally, I found it hilarious when I got to watch Antonio Brown cover Larry Fitzgerald. He stepped onto the field, pointed at Fitzgerald, banged himself into confidence with a shot or two to his helmet, then proceeded to watch Fitzgerald blow past him like he was stopped.
But if people simply cannot tolerate watching football in a less-than-cutthroat manner (which I'm not saying is wrong), then the idea of the Pro Bowl won't work. There is no in-between, though.
What are your thoughts on fixing the Pro Bowl?