Improving the Pro Bowl: A 5-Step Process to Fix the NFL All-Star Game
One of the most interesting nuggets to come out of Tuesday’s NFL owners’ meeting in Atlanta is that the league is considering tweaking the Pro Bowl.
It’s a star game in name only, because the Pro Bowl produced is a watered-down product that’s not that fun to watch. Players don’t want to risk injury, and football isn’t fun when it’s played at half speed and with only half-hearted defensive attempts.
Indeed, it is time to rethink the whole event. Here’s my five-step process for fixing the Pro Bowl and making it an event to watch:
1. Start with a skills competition
Think field day, but bigger, stronger and faster. Elements of that are already incorporated into Pro Bowl week, with dodgeball, a one-handed catching competition and a quarterback accuracy challenge. These events, held in the days leading up to the Pro Bowl, are just as entertaining as the game itself.
Incredibly competitive athletes playing kids games? Yes please. The NFL should just ditch the auspices of real football and lean into the fun.
Keep the dodgeball, of course, as well as the passing competition from the quarterback. Add a three-legged run, a game of HORSE and a 40-yard run to finally determine who is the fastest man in the NFL.
Who doesn’t love Dodgeball in the Pro Bowl?
– NFL (@NFL) January 27, 2022
My child’s elementary school had something called Noodle Wars. Four teams, each with a different colored noodle. Punch your opponents until you are the last team standing. The kindergartners loved it, and if you think I wouldn’t spend 15 minutes watching Aaron Donald, Trent Williams, and Josh Allen smack the shit out of them with pool noodles, you must be new here.
Could an obstacle course be added to the “American Ninja Warrior”? Incorporate some football elements – footwork drills, pushing a sled, catching and throwing – make it a race and see how fast 250-pound edge rushers can scale a deformed 14 1/2-foot wall.
How many times have you heard stories about how extremely competitive NFL players are? That they hate losing at checkers, billiards, table tennis or Connect 4?
Here’s a chance to prove it.
2. Turn it into a telethon
We know people watch the Pro Bowl. Even with a significant drop in ratings in 2022, the game still drew around 6.7 million viewers.
So if fixing the Pro Bowl starts with making it fun, then it has to be done well, and the league doesn’t have to dig too deep into its history to see how that might work.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to hold a virtual 2020 draft, the NFL used one of its broadcast channels for “Draft-a-Thon” and ended up raising $7 million for relief. COVID-19.
The NFL might not be able to match that level of donations during the Pro Bowl, but this event would provide a great platform to raise money for a number of charities large and small.
Players will definitely want to get paid for appearing in the Pro Bowl – the only thing that motivated players to even try to tackle in the first place was the bigger check for the winning team. What if they could also raise funds for their favorite causes or for their own foundations?
3. Let the Manning brothers host it
I don’t believe there is anyone in the history of the NFL who loved and enjoyed the Pro Bowl more than Peyton Manning. He considered it an honor to be selected, of course, but he used the week as a time to bond and talk football with coaches and players across the league. It was one of his favorite places to prank, enjoy a few Bud Lights (league sponsor, of course) and seek out the brains of other clever footballers.
Now let him bring that excitement to a “Pro Bowl-a-Thon” TV show.
ESPN discovered the magic when it paired Peyton and Eli Manning for a “Monday Night Football” simulcast last season. This informal format, with a mix of analysis, celebrity interviews and brotherly banter, would be perfect for a non-traditional Pro Bowl broadcast.
We’d love to see Peyton’s disappointment when the quarterbacks struggle in the passing challenge, and look forward to Eli’s dry humor as he breaks down the dodgeball game.
And they have the cachet of bringing in major guests, from retired NFL stars to actors like The Rock or musicians, to help with fundraising efforts.
4. Get the fans involved
Who wouldn’t love a good old fashioned Pros vs. Joes style deal?
NFL Pro Bowlers will make all of these games easy. But let’s allow some fans to remind us all how incredibly strong, fast and talented these players are.
So before we watch Russell Wilson attempt to defend his 2022 Skills Challenge accuracy passing title, let’s see a 34-year-old accountant from Denver try it out.
Want to see Tyreek Hill and DK Metcalf in a 40-yard sprint? Let’s line up a 28-year-old math teacher from Miami and give him a head start.
The NFL might have to take out a pretty hefty insurance policy, but let’s throw a few fans into noodle wars or dodgeball, just to see what happens.
5. Bet on everything
Suppose the NFL wants to keep the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas. (And it should, just for the time being.)
Now make every element of the Pro Bowl something we can bet on, from pre-event prop bets for the dodgeball MVP to the winners of every skill position challenge to the live odds of the Noodle Wars. Let’s bet on how many Bud Lights Peyton Manning will drink or how many times Eli will accidentally curse live on TV.
Even if the NFL chooses to keep more of the traditional elements of the Pro Bowl, whether it’s a scaled-down version of a real game or a flag football tournamentthe league needs to find a way to incorporate live games into it to retain the millions of fans who tune in.
(Top photo: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)