Four of the most popular sports in the United States — baseball, basketball, football and hockey — have some form of an all-star game.
The MLB All-Star Game normally occurs halfway through the season and serves as a break for all 30 teams during the long 162-game season. Additionally, the MLB All-Star Game serves a purpose apart from showmanship. The winner of the game held between the American and National leagues, up until the 2017 season, gained home-field advantage in the World Series. While this is no longer true, it added some incentive for the players to actually try in the game.
Similar to the MLB, the NBA All-Star Game is also held near the middle of the 82-game season. While the NBA All-Star Game is not really taken that seriously, with defense rarely actually played, it displays the truly elite players facing off in a pickup-style game. The NHL also has its all-star game halfway through its 82-game season. Not only does this serve as a midseason break for the players, but all the profits from the NHL All-Star Game go to the players’ pensions.
So what exactly is the point of the NFL Pro Bowl? Each team only plays 16 games per season, each has a bye week built into their schedule and it isn’t as though the game is held between weeks eight and nine as another break. The game is held the week before the Super Bowl, and anyone who has ever watched the Pro Bowl knows that the game is not taken seriously at all. Additionally, football is one of the most dangerous sports, and while this may be the reason players don’t really take it seriously, injuries still happen.
For instance, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees dislocated his elbow in the 2007 Pro Bowl, and while he clearly has turned into an elite quarterback of his era, an elbow injury can end careers. Another injury occurred in events leading up to the 1999 Pro Bowl, when then-New England Patriots rookie running back Robert Edwards blew out his knee and was unable to play for another four years, never returning to his former prestige.
While the MLB overall, and more specifically the MLB All-Star Game, has been struggling with viewership, both the NBA and the NHL have had upticks in viewership for their respective all-star games. The NFL, on the other hand, has seen a steady decline in Pro Bowl viewership since 2011. Despite an attempt to revamp the game in 2014 by having the teams selected by all-time great players, viewership has fallen annually from 13.4 million in 2011 to just 7.4 million in 2017, less than 10 percent of the viewership of the Super Bowl.
So once again I ask, what is the point of the Pro Bowl? With fans becoming less and less interested in watching it each year, it seems hard to find a good reason to keep this tradition going. Additionally, since 2010, when the game was moved from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before it, players on teams in the Super Bowl have been barred from participating due to fear of injury. Many players decline their invites to the game for a variety of reasons such as potential injury, or simply having no desire to play in the game. The past two years have had 45 and 37 players decline invites, respectively, as opposed to an average of just 17 players declining from 1998 to 2014, as per Elias Sports Bureau.
So who likes the Pro Bowl? Clearly the fans don’t. It would seem as though the players don’t either. So the only other option I can see is that the NFL itself gains something from it. However, that would be wrong, according to former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth in USA Today.
“Roger [Goodell] was very serious about potentially canceling the Pro Bowl because apparently it’s very expensive and isn’t of a ton of value to them,” Foxworth wrote. He also went on to say that there were some players who “said they loved it and they want to be there.”
Some players say that they love the game and want to be there, but more and more are also declining invitations to actually go. This results in a game that doesn’t have the best players in it and that no one really cares about. So what’s the solution here? I see two paths. One option would be that the NFL and the NFL Players Association cut their losses and agree to just get rid of the Pro Bowl. The other option would be to replace the game with some sort of skills competition held as the main event. Either way, the Pro Bowl needs to go.