I’ve ripped on the Pro Bowl many times before. A couple years ago I wrote that they should scrap the whole game completely. Instead of forcing the players out there for a contest that features little to no real competition, the NFL should turn the whole event into a bigger version of the NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night, which features the three-point shootout, the dunk contest, etc.
With the game in Honolulu, I thought they could get creative and utilize the local landscape. A few of my favorite ideas in addition to the football skills competitions could be some stand-up paddle relays, an outrigger canoe race or a good old haupia pie eating contest. Wouldn’t those be more interesting than that 62-35 embarrassment at Aloha Stadium in 2013?
Well the league did change things up for the 2014 game, tapping Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders as captains who each drafted their teams from the Pro Bowl selectees. The result was actually a really entertaining football game, won 22-21 by Team Rice after his squad scored and converted the two-point try in the final minute.
Was it the switch from the old AFC-NFC format to the new fantasy draft that made the difference? Was it having Rice and Sanders on the sidelines? Was it just the players understanding that more was expected of them and wanting to put on a much better display? Were they just scared of losing their paid vacation to Hawaii?
We could get some more evidence one way or another after today’s game. This year’s captains are Michael Irvin and Cris Carter, two of the best wide receivers to ever lace ‘em up. The game, though, won’t be back on Oahu. This year’s event is being held in Glendale, Arizona, exactly where the Super Bowl will take place next week. Some of the rules are slightly different and the uprights will be taller and narrower than usual, which I like. Novelty is good in a game like this. It’s an exhibition, so it should be distinguished in various ways.
But whether or not today’s game matches last year’s or is barely watchable, do we miss having it here? There’s obviously less of a noticeable difference for us than for Oahu residents, who probably have a strong opinion one way or the other. But do we feel, as a state, that we’ve lost something of value?
Never having been someone who paid much attention to the game — which is saying something, since I consume more football than is probably acceptable in most circles — I can’t say I have any ill will towards the league for moving it. Arizona isn’t my favorite state for a few reasons, but stealing the Pro Bowl isn’t cracking the short list.
Financially, it’s hard to say how we will be affected. Getting revenue numbers is tricky, because money the league takes in can differ greatly from money spent by tourists in the local economy. It didn’t seem to be much of a financial boon for the league to have the game here, but Pacific Business News reported that the 2012 game brought in $25 million in revenue for the state, which was about the same as the previous year after the game took a one-year hiatus to Miami in 2010.
I’ve never been mistaken for someone who’s all that financially savvy, but $25 million sounds like a helpful figure. The state paid the league $4 million to have the game played here, so that seems to be a healthy return on investment.
Maybe it’s because I know the league plans to bring the Pro Bowl back to Hawaii next year that I’m not discouraged about its flirtatious rendezvous with Arizona later today. It has been played here more than 30 times, so people do identify the game with Hawaii — whatever stereotypical and watered-down version they choose to show. If it were gone permanently, I might be a little sad. But instead, I’m just curious how Irvin might respond if the six Cowboys he drafted don’t meet expectations, or if a kicker misses an extra point.
And if you bet on the Pro Bowl, there’s a number you need to call.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.