This past week, the NFL announced some serious changes to one of its longest standing traditions. A new era of the Pro Bowl is upon us.
After 71 years, the NFL Pro Bowl game has come to a surprising yet overdue end. The announcement was made by NFL Executive, Peter O’Reilly on Sept. 26. The game will now become a series of skill-based games called “The Pro Bowl Games.”
The Pro Bowl will still have the best players selected from the AFC and NFC. It will be held the weekend before the Super Bowl in the city hosting the big game. The host city of Super Bowl LVII will be Las Vegas in their Allegiant Stadium. The only change is the format; no contact game turned into skill-based competitions.
The skill competitions for the new “Pro Bowl Games” have not yet been announced, but it is known that the competitions will lead up to a flag football game featuring the pro bowlers. Fans hope to see some classic challenges like the “Strongest Man,” the “Best Hands,” and “Accuracy, Distance, and Agility” challenges make a return.
The addition of the flag football game is not only the NFL’s effort to keep players safe but their push for flag football to the world. At the moment, flag football is being set up to appear in the 2028 Olympic Games. Also, as of Sept. 29, California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has declared flag football as a new high school sport for girls. The Pro Bowl is the NFL’s best opportunity to show that flag football belongs on a big stage.
Although this is the NFL’s latest attempt in revamping and bringing value back to the Pro Bowl, it isn’t their first. Starting in 1980, the Pro Bowl was played in Hawaii for many years. After 2006, the game became little to no contact after the infamous Sean Taylor tackle to ensure player safety. Then, in 2010, the Pro Bowl started to be played in the city that hosted the Super Bowl. Just recently, the NFL Pro Fan Experience, a center for fans to visit, take pictures and have the opportunity to meet players, was brought to the Pro Bowl weekend.
The NFL looks to replicate the fun and excitement the NBA has brought to their All-Star Weekend with their skill competitions and All-Star Game. Through minor tweaks and increased stakes, the NBA has brought value back to that weekend and the NFL wishes to do the same.
The newest change to the format also makes sense because of the decrease of viewership over the years. According to Austin Karp from Sports Business Journal, last season’s Pro Bowl drew in 6.69 million viewers, making it its lowest since 2006’s 5.96 million viewers. The 2021 Pro Bowl viewership was also low due to it being an online event, racking in 1.84 million viewers.
Time will tell if the new format is the right move to bring back the fun and prestige the Pro Bowl once had. The new “Pro Bowl Games” will take place Sunday Feb. 5, 2023.