Pro Bowl game likely to be shelved
Many players who will be selected during this week's NFL draft are regarded as future Pro Bowl selections, but the game itself likely will be suspended this season and beyond, according to league sources.
Beyond 2013, another league source believes the Pro Bowl is "DOA (dead on arrival)."
The next Pro Bowl is scheduled the week before the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3, but a game site has not been listed because of its precarious status, sources added.
"No determination has been made yet about this season's game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press in response to ESPN's report. "We have been in discussions with the union about the future of the Pro Bowl."
Per the collective bargaining agreement, the league must consult with the union on Pro Bowl matters but can unilaterally suspend the game. The league would like to have a joint consensus with the union, sources said.
Newly elected NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth tweeted Thursday: "The Pro Bowl is an important tradition we are in talks with the league to improve and preserve the game for our players and fans."
If the game is suspended, the league still would have a Pro Bowl balloting process to identify the season's top players and would direct teams to remain open to negotiating Pro Bowl clauses into player contracts and to honor Pro Bowl incentive and escalator clauses to avoid any serious conflict with the players' association. Those players also likely would be honored in some fashion during Super Bowl week.
The league and union held discussions last week on whether the Pro Bowl can become more attractive but neither side has embraced an alternative solution, sources said. Both sides also concede that heightened player health and safety issues have been a contributing factor to a diminished product.
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Commissioner Roger Goodell said in February that eliminating the game was under consideration. In an appearance on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on Super Bowl Sunday, he said the league must address the quality of the game and even said he would consider eliminating it if it can't be improved upon.
The AFC routed the NFC 59-41 in last season's Pro Bowl, which drew boos at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu for its lack of early intensity.
The game still draws solid TV ratings, but isn't considered a money maker. Although viewership dropped 8.1 percent in January, the Pro Bowl still was the highest-rated sports program of the weekend.
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York questioned his followers on Twitter about their feeling toward the Pro Bowl, then concluded later that there "Doesn't seem to be much love" in the responses.
The big factor is cost, particularly when the game is played in Hawaii. And with so many defections -- there were 20 replacements for non-participating players in 2012, including Pro Bowlers from the Giants and Patriots who were occupied with the Super Bowl -- it raises the question of whether the game is still special.
Hawaii began hosting the game in 1980 and it was held there annually until 2010, when it moved to Miami and was played the week before the Super Bowl there. Before moving it, the NFL said there was a need for a more modern stadium in Hawaii.
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"We understand that the suspension of the Pro Bowl is a possibility," Mike McCartney, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement. "However, we are still in discussions with the NFL about the possibility of holding the event here in the Hawaiian Islands. We feel the Pro Bowl and Hawaii are a perfect fit and believe that holding the Pro Bowl in the Hawaiian Islands would be a good thing for our visitor industry and the state."
The Tourism Authority, which generates revenue from a tax on hotel rates, has been paying the NFL $4 million to bring the game to the islands. The authority touts the $25 million Pro Bowl visitors spend during their stay. It also values the advertising it gets when the nation sees sun-soaked players running across the field in the middle of winter.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie last year criticized the payments, questioning why Hawaii should "give 4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry" when the state was struggling to fund education. He did an about-face several months later, saying he wanted Hawaii to host the game and "we're going to do everything we can to make sure that comes about in a fashion that will make everybody very, very happy."
NFL counsel Jeff Pash said last week there have been extensive talks with players about the Pro Bowl.
"When should it be played? Where? And certainly the quality of the game," he said. "We understand what contributes to the low quality of the game. It does not mean very much either financially or competitively. Players are reluctant to participate in a way that they could be injured. It's not going to ever look like a playoff game, but it needs to improve so fans don't say, 'I feel bad watching it.'"
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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