NFL Pro Bowl's Move to Orlando Provides Chance to Reinvigorate the Event
In very few circumstances does Hawaii ever lose out on being a preferred destination, but this might be one of those rare times.
The NFL announced this week that they reached a multi-year deal to move the NFL Pro Bowl game to Orlando, Florida as part of their ongoing efforts to make the game more relevant. For years, the game has suffered from lack of interest—one of the few NFL events that can say that—and while a venue change alone can’t undue years of a product only slightly resembling the football fans know and love, this provides a first real chance in a while to do some thing new and refreshing with a game that’s been anything but.
NFL Players (And Their Families) Will Actually Enjoy it More
Here’s the problem with Hawaii: I’ve been on those “working vacations” and so has my young family. While many (and I mean many) families—especially mothers and wives—of NFL stars love the fact that the league has allowed them the chance to go to one of the most beautiful places on earth, there’s always the friction between the stuff players want to do and the stuff they need to do.
Hawaii is a bucketlist type of place. You don’t want to experience once-in-a-lifetime scenery and activities and leave the man you love and father of your children back at his 13th sponsored luau of the week. More importantly, you don’t want to drag your family to Hawaii and then proceed to drag them around in front of cameras and fans with the hopes of maybe stealing a minute away from the hubbub to get some quality time.
Orlando is home to literally the happiest place on earth (thanks to NFL partner Disney/ABC/ESPN /etc), but it’s also not as “sacred” a place as the Hawaiian islands. Grandpa and Grandma want to take the kids to IDrive Orlando while dad does a celebrity homerun derby at Wide World of Sports? Sure! Pro Bowl Orlando sounds amazing!
Oh, and here’s the kicker…Hawaii is great and all, but with a solid plurality of NFL players hailing from the south, this provides a chance for the whole family to make the trip. No more whittling down the list of which cousins get to make the flight to the Pro Bowl, because Uncle Larry is buying an RV and hitching his smoker to the back.
Here’s the rub when it comes to anything NFL—it sells. The NFL Pro Bowl has been such a thorn in the league’s side because it’s long been the one thing that hasn’t. While the league has found ways to monetize its awards show (!) and schedule release (!!), the Pro Bowl has still seen tepid response at best. Even voting for the Pro Bowl doesn’t have quite the same fever it used to, and the player draft format with Jerry Rice et al. hasn’t exactly sparked wide interest. (The league is moving back to AFC-NFC in 2017 as well.)
So, if the Pro Bowl couldn’t bring fans to the football, bring football to the fans.
I’ve seen tailgates outside of a Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, AL. I’ve seen autograph lines a mile long at a Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, FL. I’ve seen crazy fans—high school, college and pro—treat the sport like a religion around this state and around the south as a whole regardless of the venue or magnitude of the game.
Still, it’s unlikely the league will be able to simply “build it and they will come” outside of the first year of this deal. The NFL needs to do more with the event to make it a winter destination for football fans not just around the south, but around the world.
A New Venue Means Opportunity To Tweak The Program
The NFL has a real opportunity to make the Pro Bowl-to-Super Bowl gap something special in a number of ways—if only in stark contrast to what it isn’t right now. Commissioner Roger Goodell said as much in a statement around the changes:
“We are excited to re-imagine the Pro Bowl Orlando experience for both fans and players and to celebrate the game of football at all levels. Collaborating with Disney and ESPN brings us closer to the best in youth and family-focused entertainment. We look forward to working with the city of Orlando, I-Drive Orlando and Florida Citrus Sports to create a week-long celebration for football and our fans.”
In that same press release, the NFL announced youth football initiatives around the event as well as USA Football activities. The timing is right that the entire Central Florida corridor between Orlando and Tampa could be dotted with football from high school all star games to charity events, etc.
Working with Disney is going to provide ample opportunity to create an event rather than just a game. The NFL is good at lots of things, but the Disney corporation is second-to-none when it comes to putting on a show.
Maybe that means someone convincing the league that a “full-contact” game between guys who aren’t hitting wouldn’t be as fun as a flag football game or a skills competition. Perhaps the imagineers at Disney help create something that is more akin to the old “Rock and Jock” sporting events at MTV . It could even be something as simple as packing so much other stuff around the game itself that the NFL’s revenue stream and fans’ enjoyment becomes independent of the game itself.
The Pro Bowl has been broken for a long time, and the league has wisely ignored calls to scrap it altogether. Now, they have a real chance to fix it once and for all with NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando - www.ProBowlOrlando.com - Official Pro Bowl Website for NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando.