Not a single NFL fan will admit on the record to enjoying the Pro Bowl. But despite sagging ratings, more than enough still watch the exhibition event to make it worthwhile.
The NFL announced Wednesday it's going to tinker with its much-maligned All-Star Game for the second time in a few years. Starting next season, the contest will be moving from Aloha Stadium in Hawaii to Camping World Stadium (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, Fla., for the foreseeable future. In addition, the Pro Bowl will return to its original AFC vs. NFC format after implementing a random draft in 2014.
The problems plaguing the Pro Bowl are well-documented: players who were voted in pull out of playing, the stakes are meaningless and, most importantly, playing football at half-speed is really, really lame. Even more, there's always the risk of injury -- Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert could miss the beginning of the 2016 season after injuring his ankle in the Pro Bowl.
Roger Goodell reportedly wanted to get rid of the Pro Bowl in 2014 -- yes, the fans and Goodell appear to be on the same side of at least one issue -- but the NFL Players Association intervened to keep it alive. NFLPA executive Domonique Foxworth said players enjoy the event, which is surprising, considering dozens of them decline invitations every winter. A record-setting number of players refused to go this year.
Combining those issues with three straight years of dropping ratings would seem to make it an easy choice for the NFL to cancel the game. But even a low-rated Pro Bowl that's mainly comprised of replacement players still competes with and outdraws many events from the other three major men's professional leagues. This year's rating may have been the lowest ever, but they were probably a lot higher than whatever ESPN would air in its place.
The MLB All-Star Game is the only exhibition contest that's drawn more viewers than the Pro Bowl over the last 12 months. During this span, the Pro Bowl has also beaten the ratings for the Stanley Cup Final, National League Championship Series and American League Championship Series.
In comparison to other NFL events, the Pro Bowl is a dud. But everything is relative. Though its number of viewers has declined over the years, the ratings are still enviable.
ESPN is slated to air the event for the next six years. If these numbers hold, the Pro Bowl will probably continue well past then, too, despite our moaning and groaning.
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