Dear Roger Goodell: Rethink the Pro Bowl
Dear Commissioner Goodell,
The state of your NFL is clearly strong. New fans continue to flock to your sport in droves. Ticket sales have not suffered in the face of an ailing economy. Your ancillary brands are growing (thank you, women's apparel). Even your Pro Bowl had its highest rating last year in the past decade. Sure, that whole CBA thing and the prospects of a 2011 season may be a little shaky at the moment, but we'll discuss that in the future.
Today, I'd like to focus on the Pro Bowl and its numerous flaws, and propose an idea for improvement.
The Pro Bowl is by far the most meaningless "all-star" game of any of the major sports. An obvious start would be with its timing. Up until last year the game was held one week after the pinnacle of the entire sports year. Talk about the textbook example of a letdown. And with the new week before the Super Bowl format, we have such adrenaline coming out of championship week that we're ready to ride the high straight to the Lombardi Trophy. Why should we care about some flag football game shoehorned in between?
And how can you consider the Pro Bowl an all-star game when, in the new format, there is a 100 percent chance that significant number of "stars" won't be Hawaii bound? Yes, I'm talking about the numerous representatives from the Packers and Steelers -- the league's two best teams -- who won't be playing. And then there's the trickle down effect, meaning several of the Bears and Jets who suddenly have injuries prohibiting them from playing. That's a good chunk of your final four. This Sunday's game has 22 players who have dropped out -- that's an entire offense and defense.
And about those ratings. Yes, the move to playing a "game" while anticipating the big game served you well, but let's put it into perspective. Last year's 7.9 rating on ESPN still hovers in the Titans/Jaguars "Monday Night Football" category (a game that even that most ardent fans, including those who owned Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew in fantasy, sighed at the prospect of watching) -- and is only marginally better than Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, a sport with only half your league's popularity, according to a new Harris Poll Report.
Ratings drive everything and here's how you can make them higher while pleasing the fans and your players:
Get rid of the game. Now, before you walk out on me, I have an idea in mind to take its place. The "Pro Bowl Special," a two-hour televised extravaganza honoring the best players in the NFL, to air live during Super Bowl week. You, Mr. Goodell, would be the ringleader, calling up each Pro Bowler for a quick interview, which would lead into a season highlight reel. Each player would receive a Pro Bowl trophy, some type of sponsor-tied swag (a car, a watch, heck, even a trip to Hawaii) and would walk away with the recognition he deserves. To add some suspense, you can announce the official All-Pro team at the end of the broadcast, selecting the best player at each position (Pro Bowlers would all be finalists for this).
The players would love it because it would give them a rare chance to display their individualism beyond the slippery slopes of Twitter (see Cutler, Jay).
The league would benefit because it would draw all the Pro Bowl players to the Super Bowl city for reasons beyond product-hawking, making that week all the more profitable for the league, the host city and supporting entities.
And the fans would benefit by having a one-day break from the hype and overanalysis of the Super Bowl to look back on the seasons of their favorite players and teams. In addition to the suspense of the All-Pro selections, I don't know a fan out there who wouldn't prefer to relive the footage of their favorites playing at 100 percent in meaningful games over (half of) those players giving it (barely) 50 percent in a meaningless game.
That's just the base idea. If you're really getting ambitious, you make this a true event by adding individual awards like the MVP, rookie/coach of the year, off-field accomplishments, celebrity presenters and even bring in some musical acts. I bet the Black Eyed Peas would be available ... every year.
Thank you for reading,