The NFL spiced things up in the 2014 Pro Bowl, played on January 26th from Aloha Stadium in sunny Hawaii. There was no more AFC vs. NFC. Instead, NFL legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted the All-Pro players to their own teams in a type of fantasy draft setting, and squared off head-to-head. Despite a surprisingly low-scoring and exciting game in which Team Rice won 22-21 after a late two-point conversion, the game had 11.7 million viewers, according to Sports Illustrated, which was about a half-million drop from the previous year.
For comparison's sake, according to Baseball Almanac, the 2013 MLB All-Star game had 11 million viewers. Ironically, though, the NFL is a much more popular sport overall than our "national pastime." The main reason for these ratings, however, is that the MLB All-Star matchup actually means something, as the winning league is given home-field advantage in the World Series -- which can completely decide a series one way or the other.
While some think that this is giving the game too much power, giving it some meaning is much better than the alternative: making the game completely meaningless like the Pro Bowl has been.
When you think of the Pro Bowl, rather than images of hard-hitting, bone-crunching tackles or running backs trucking defenders into the ground, you may be inclined to think of players laughing on the sidelines as defenses concede touchdowns at will, not wanting to injure themselves or opponents. While last year's game was much more intense than in previous years, it's safe to say that players would like the game to count for something other than a weeklong trip to Maui. In 2015, the game will be played in Arizona, so the tropical trip will even be eliminated.
Here's how to fix the Pro Bowl.
Step one would be to change the time of the season in which the game is played. My suggestion would be to play the game in April or May after the season and the Super Bowl. In its current spot, the week before the Super Bowl, no players who are playing in next Sunday's big game take the field during the Pro Bowl, therefore allowing for non-deserving Pro Bowlers to join the squads. To add, players are burnt out from the season and the energy level never reaches an intense level for a meaningless game, which leads me to my next point.
Make the game meaningful. How would this happen? Very simple. Since the game would take place towards the end of spring, all deserving Pro Bowlers would be inclined to play in the game. This alone would drive ratings up. Plus, at this time of the year, most NFL fans are longing for some football to watch.
But, how does the outcome of the game become relevant?
The winning team would automatically win the coin toss for their conference in next season's Super Bowl. This wouldn't give an abnormally large edge to the winning conference, but it would denote some kind of incentive to ensure that most players give it their all. This would give a slight advantage to the winning team, who would be able to gain a leg up in game planning, knowing if they would kick-off or receive to begin the game.
To entice players to perform with even more effort, each player on the winning side would receive a cash prize of $25,000, and the losing side would receive nothing. Going back to Bounty-Gate, it's obvious that NFL players will play harder for even hundreds of dollars, so $25,000 would be a nice sum to sweeten the pie for the winning squad. Trust me, the NFL could easily afford this.
Instead of having a fantasy draft, going back to the AFC vs. NFC structure would be an obvious necessary change. NFL legends can still come and coach the teams, but the leagues would be separate and also work together towards a common goal.
Moving the game to different parts of the country every year would also be a smart move, as fans from all around the country could finally be able to see the true top players in the league playing their hardest at a time in the year when everyone misses the NFL.
From a marketing standpoint, the NFL would be able to grow even further, as media coverage usually focuses just on the NFL Draft at that point of the year. With this proposed solution, the media would be breaking down the matchup between stars as well.
The 2015 Pro Bowl has been scheduled for Sunday, January 25 and the 2016 Pro Bowl is back in Hawaii on Sunday, January 31. How awesome would it be for the 2017 Pro Bowl to be held on a beautiful spring day on Sunday, May 7 in a fun venue like Bryant-Denny stadium at the University of Alabama? Just a thought!
What do you think? Would you watch? Would you care?
Follow Dan Karpuc on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DanielAKarpuc