Why Is The NFL Pro Bowl Becoming Less Popular?

This year's Pro Bowl witnessed NFL stars declining invitations to Hawaii in record numbers.

This year’s Pro Bowl witnessed NFL stars declining invitations to Hawaii in record numbers.

HONOLULU, HI – On Sunday evening, the world’s best football players gathered in Aloha Stadium to compete against one another in the yearly Pro Bowl.  Such a statement sounds like something any NFL fan would be excited to watch.  After all, fans love to watch every consecutive Sunday of the NFL season, and this Sunday is no different.  As a matter of fact, this game should be better because all of the stars of the sport are grouped together into two powerhouse teams.  What’s not to like about such an alluring prospect?

Well, there are a few reasons to explain the surprising lack of excitement for the Pro Bowl.

First, fans have trouble getting excited since the Pro Bowl is scheduled for the week before the Super Bowl, any players on those two teams don’t participate in order to be better prepared for the championship.  This means that the NFL’s two best teams have no players to represent them in the Pro Bowl.  Not only that, but the NFL has to search to find new players, likely not as good, to fill in those vacant spots.

Some of the NFL's star players, like Cam Newton, are unable to attend this year's Pro Bowl due to the fact that it is scheduled the week before the Super Bowl.

Some of the NFL’s star players, like Cam Newton, are unable to attend this year’s Pro Bowl due to the fact that it is scheduled the week before the Super Bowl.

To add to the issues, most players from the losing team of the AFC and NFC championship games also don’t turn up for the event.  Having been eliminated from the playoffs just a mere week ago, it’s difficult for these players to motivate themselves to compete in a meaningless game.  The numbers tell the story:  This year 133 players were either voted to or added to the Pro Bowl, the highest number in NFL history.  Such an absurdly vast amount of players proves to make the idea of playing in the Pro Bowl much less impressive, both to players and to fans.

Second, since the sport of football is such a violent, injury-prone affair, NFL players don’t want to risk an injury in a meaningless game such as the Pro Bowl.  For example, quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has once again declined his invitation to the Pro Bowl.  Although he has been voted into the game 11 times, he hasn’t actually gone since 2004.  His main reason for opting out is due to the fact that he needs to recover from the rigor of the NFL season, and the Pro Bowl is nowhere on the path to recovery.

Veteran players such as Tom Brady are less willing to risk an injury in a meaningless Pro Bowl game. (Mark L. Baer / USA Today)

This year, the quarterback position was especially depleted as eight quarterbacks decided to stay away from Hawaii.  Such a surplus of declines meant that the NFL was searching deep into the archives for eight quarterbacks that could fill in as alternates for the game.  After doing some quick math, one could conclude that this meant the 16th best quarterback in the league was going to the Pro Bowl.  Therefore, HALF of the starting NFL quarterbacks were either invited or ended up going to participate.  Such a large amount helps to water down the sense of achievement for making it into this all-star game.

How could the NFL improve the Pro Bowl to make it more enjoyable for both fans and players?

Solution #1: The NFL could move the game to the weekend after the Super Bowl.  Although this would make it possible for the Super Bowl’s teams’ players to participate, this solution still wouldn’t address the other combined issues: prevention of injury and player interest in the Pro Bowl.

Solution #2: The NFL could do a Futures Game.  Like in baseball, football could change the Pro Bowl into a game where the up and coming players compete against one another.  This would raise player interest, since the players being chosen would still find such a competition quite alluring.  In addition, fans would enjoy seeing the young players competing, as a snapshot of what the future holds.  As of right now, this course of action seems as though it would be most effective.

A possible solution to the Pro Bowl's woes could be to put young stars on the roster, like Jameis Winston of Tampa Bay. (David Goldman / AP Photo)

A possible solution to the Pro Bowl’s woes could be to put young stars on the roster, like Jameis Winston of Tampa Bay. (David Goldman / AP Photo)

In conclusion, there are some major issues with the Pro Bowl and its inability to attract both fans and players, including the scheduling and player risk of injury.  However, there are possible solutions that could help to remedy these issues, if the NFL is willing to try them out.

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