Any players who are first-time invitees to the Pro Bowl usually attend 100 percent of the time. They’re excited for the trip and the chance to be recognized as one of the best in the business.
I’ve been to several Pro Bowls in Honolulu, and it’s a pretty cool and relaxing week. The greatest thing about it is the access one has to the very best in the business. The top of the foot chain in NFL royalty, both past and present, are marinating around the hotel pool in Hawaiian shirts, enjoying a cool drink.
For a first timer to kick it with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matt Light, Ray Lewis and other top-shelf names is a special experience. Players with families love the trip because it’s a paid vacation, and the properties the players stay in are conducive to children. The NFL even picks up the cost of flights, meal allowances and hotels for players’ wives.
Another reason players love the Pro Bowl is because the resorts they stay in provide insulation for them and their families. Security is tight, autograph-seeking is minimal and the league practically has the hotel to itself.
While all these reasons are great incentives to go to the game and pick up some extra cash ($50,000 to players on the winning team, $25,000 to the losers), the Miami experiment won’t work. Interest in playing in the game in any location is waning every year.
1) The obvious reason playing the Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl won’t work is that many of the best players are probably playing in the Super Bowl.
2) As salaries increase, $50,000 isn’t the carrot it used to be. As a matter of fact, many players lose money on the Pro Bowl trip because they bring their whole family, including in-laws, coaches, agents, friends and teammates. Cost is usually about $3,000 per person and can easily run over $30,000 for an entire group.
3) Guys are tired after a long season.
4) It’s just too far. Many players dread the thought of flying from the east coast to Hawaii, about 11 to 15 hours of travel time if you figure flight connections.
5) It gets boring by the third day. A lot of guys get disinterested because the resort isn’t really close to anything of interest in Hawaii. Also, once a player has gone a few times, it gets to be like “Groundhog Day.”
6) And, of course, nobody wants to get hurt.
Here’s my idea of what the league and the players association can do to fix up the Pro Bowl:
1) Eliminate the game altogether and replace it with a week of entertaining events culminating in a grand finale like an ESPY/roast/awards show type of production. It would likely garner a larger TV audience and be more entertaining. There can be five events during the week, for example: golf, a basketball game, a 60-yard race between the fastest players, arm wrestling, a three-point shootout featuring celebs and players, cook-offs, an accuracy contest for QBs, a kicking and punting contest, cheerleader dance-offs and even a dance contest between offensive and defensive linemen. This setup would give the networks more programming time, and the players would be more likely to attend because they would get more coveted face-time without their helmets, helping their endorsement profiles. The additional TV programming would also have a stronger monetization formula than a single game.
2) Move the events to San Diego. Many NFL players like Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and countless others already reside there in the offseason. The weather is dependable and there are lots of things for married and single players to do. It’s a shorter trip than Hawaii and is easy to get to. San Diego has one of the world’s great zoos, an amazing wild animal park, incredible beaches and Legoland for kids. Luxurious resorts like La Costa and The Grand Del Mar can host players and events.
3) Add in the celebrity factor. Being just a two-hour drive from Los Angeles would make it an easy trip for the red carpet set.
I know the hate mail will start coming from Hawaii, but I strongly believe fewer and fewer star players will attend the game in the future. I think the notion of playing the Pro Bowl prior to Super Bowl week has proven to be a failure, but it was definitely worth trying. Let me know any ideas, feedback or suggestions you have. I want your input.
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