Every year, the NFL’s second-to-last game of the season gets terrible ratings.
About 13.4 million people watched the Pro Bowl in 2011. But since then, ratings for the game have decreased every year except 2018. In 2020, only 7.9 million viewers tuned in to ESPN for the NFL’s All-Star game.
Despite efforts like moving the game from Hawaii to Orlando and creating a skills competition, the Pro Bowl continues to be a laughing stock for most football fans.
And for the players as well. The offensive and defensive lines barely touch each other, and most of the players are playing at half speed.
So how does the NFL fix the Pro Bowl to increase viewership and create a better product? Here’s a few things Roger Goodell could experiment with.
1. Have the game after the Super Bowl
When the NFL moved the Pro Bowl from after the Super Bowl to before in 2010, viewership increased by more than 3 million from the previous season.
That move made sense in 2010. After the Super Bowl, many fans were probably burned out from all the football watching they’ve done throughout the fall and the month of January, so many probably decided to skip the Pro Bowl when it was on after the big game.
But 12 years later, we live in a different world where fans always want more football. Another team was added to the playoffs for each conference, which has been deemed successful from a ratings standpoint. And the USFL is coming this season after the NFL’s season concludes.
So, if the Pro Bowl was played after the Super Bowl, fans wouldn’t want to miss their last opportunity to see an NFL game for seven months or so. But if it’s on before the Super Bowl, then there’s really no point in watching the game if the most anticipated game of the year is coming the week after.
2. Have the game in the Super Bowl host’s city
Having the Pro Bowl in Hawaii from 1980 to 2016 didn’t make too much sense. Most NFL fans are of course in the continental U.S., and the Pro Bowl wasn’t really worth it to visit Honolulu.
Orlando, Florida is a bit better, and fits perfectly with ESPN’s TV rights to the game (Disney owns ESPN), but the game’s ratings continue to decline.
On the other hand, the NFL continues to have more and more events leading up to the Super Bowl in the host’s city. Concerts, player appearances and a plethora of pregame coverage.
So, why not just include the Pro Bowl in those festivities? It helps to build up the excitement of the Super Bowl and escalate the city’s economy for a short couple weeks.
For example, this year, SoFi Stadium could’ve hosted the NFC Championship, then the Pro Bowl, then the Super Bowl. Imagine how much more the contracts would go up for Super Bowl rights if the NFL could sell that to its host cities!
3. Give the players more incentives to play in the game
Since 2011, the Pro Bowl players have been paid for participating in the game. In 2020, the winners receiver $74,000, while the losers collected $37,000.
For you or me, that’s a lot of money. But for NFL athletes? If they want to avoid risking injury, then they might as well just take the time they would be practicing and participating in the Pro Bowl and use it to sign an endorsement deal and make a commercial for a whole lot more money.
So, what can the NFL do to incentivize players to participate in the Pro Bowl? It’s easy: dramatically increase the payouts for the players.