Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear NFL, Do SOMEthing With the Pro Bowl

I can't think of a single professional 'all-star' GAME that I actually like.

I love the NHL Skills Competition when good players are in it; last year's was fun.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest is great, though too long and their 3-Point Shootout is watchable when it has recognizable contestants/winners.

The MLB All-Star Game is generally awful, despite the league's best efforts to give it relevance. The Home Run Derby is something to see, but only when a guy catches fire and starts destroying baseballs, such as Josh Hamilton in 2008. The dude hit 28 dingers in the first round...and lost.

In general, the all-star games themselves are glorified exhibitions and make for poor viewing.

But, far and away the worst pro all-star game is the Pro Bowl. The NFL is the country's most powerful sport...incredible ratings, nationwide fanbases, round-the-clock coverage, etc. Yet their all-star product is far and away the worst among all pro sports.

Watching the Pro Bowl is akin to paying for a movie that you really don't want to see. You watch it because your friends want to see it, your fears are immediately met in the first two minutes, and you are forced to sit in utter anguish until its over. Bad vibes going in, bad experience all around. I can't name a single person I know that actually watches it.

I'm a huge Steelers fan...I have the ugly ties, uncouth home decor and annoying license plates to prove it. So when I heard Ben Roethlisberger chose to skip this year's Pro Bowl, I was disappointed. Big Ben says he's sitting out to help heal his shoulder, but that's not the whole story. He's already been to it once, and that experience was probably enough. When asked about Roethlisberger's status, his own coach said nothing was really wrong.

And in truth, Ben is right. Why should he go? The game is boring, it has no 'stick' among players/coaches (no one cares), the hassle of travel is unnecessary and there's no real incentive. These guys make so much money, the bonus isn't worth it.

Get selected and then get out, that's what the stars do. They don't even attend the game after stepping out. They collectively thumb their nose at it every's a joke.

Here are some of the other players who have declined their invitations this year:
Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Stephen Jackson, Jake Long, Lance Briggs, Andre Gurode, Charles Woodson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Wes Welker.

Welker and Rodgers-Cromartie have nasty injuries that would keep them off the field even if they wanted to play. But, the majority of the other injured players were all more than willing to suit up for a game they cared about, a game that mattered. The Pro Bowl doesn't matter and no one cares, therefore, they see no reason to play in it.

Imagine Moss & Brady talking it over last week after PLAYING the Ravens:

TB - "Dude, you going to the Pro Bowl?"

RM - "What?!?" (Incredulous look) "LAME! You?"

TB - "Not unless you go too, I don't want to do all of that."

RM - "No way man, I'm going to go see 'Edge of Darkness' that day. Big plans, don't want to break them, you know. But Ochocinco will go for me, he loves that crap."

As fans, it's an insult. Why would anyone pay over $100 to watch a bunch of alternates play a few snaps and sit down? The players laugh the whole time, tackle half-heartedly, yuck it up for the cameras, do sideline interviews...on-air garbage.

For kicks, I just visited Ticketmaster's Pro Bowl site and could have bought a ticket at the 20-yard line for $130 right this minute. The game is in 10 days! The fact the tickets are available and cheap is a clear sign that NO ONE is interested.

Check out this pic from the stands last year.

Aloha Stadium, the traditional and now former home of the NFL's annual dog & pony show, seats 50,000, but, despite the game's location and the league's prestige, it was never a good game environment. Empty seats abound, the crowd noise is low. Awful.

This year's game will be at Sun Life (formerly Dolphins) Stadium in Miami, with a football seating capacity of 75,540. And, ten days before the game, individual seats on the 20-yard line are going for $130. Can't wait. That stadium's lower level will fill up...after ushers say, 'Screw it,' five minutes in and let people sit in the first deck.

I understand why the NFL needs this. It's closure to the season for any fan whose team is not in the Super Bowl, but when the league's stars aren't interested, it needs to be revamped. The NFL did the right thing by placing it before the Super Bowl, at least our interest will be somewhat piqued. But, that eliminates some of the best players...a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.

The NFL also plans on bouncing the Pro Bowl from town to town each year, hoping to cash in on markets/fans excited to host it. With this year's game being in Miami, you would think a few Dolphins would be there to help draw local interest. Nope. Jake Long was the only local selection, and he's out due to injury. Nice move. It's important to note the tickets are available to Miami season ticket holders, which I'll admit would be a nice 'bonus' at the end of the year.

However, it's too little, too late.

The fans have spoken. We're not interested. For whatever reason, the Pro Bowl doesn't click. Really, of all the major pro all-star events, only the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest resonates...all of the actual all-star games struggle to bring in a good audience. The MLB game gets a few casual viewers because of their asinine decision to link the game's winner to home-field advantage in the World Series. That almost makes it interesting...but not really.

I propose that we drop the traditional all-star games all together or find a way to incorporate skills challenges into the game somehow...make it fun, mix it up. Who cares, no one is watching anyway.

Bring back the NFL Quarterback Challenge and the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. The reason the NFL QB Challenge got canned was because Mike Vick was prominently featured in the 2007 version, then he got busted...rather than edit him out in time, they dropped it. Nice.

These challenges are kind of fun, and holding them at halftime would give non-starters and specially selected players (snubs) a chance to enjoy the game as well. Hell, an EA Sports Madden Challenge for players would be great. They already host one anyway and the players take it very seriously. You could do this as the pre/postgame show...would be awesome. Grant you, it would have to be heavily censored for language, but hey, it'd be a great pay-per-view event!

Dear NFL, do SOMEthing with the Pro Bowl.

Otherwise you'll see more athletes passing up the chance to shine as an all-star for the opportunity to rest and relax. All they are doing is diminishing the all-pro legacy while ignoring the game of football, and the fans, that made them rich.


Anonymous said...

Back when the NHL had six teams, they used one of the best All-Star Game models I've seen. Each year, an all-star team from five of the league's teams would play the defending Stanley Cup champions. For pride's sake alone, there was serious motivation to win that game. I think we could do something similar in today's NHL, NBA, and MLB.

Susan said...

Oh by the way, there hsve been several injuries in skills competition and All-Star Games that contribute to "stars" staying away. The games are for "show" but do offer opportunities for some to showcase for their next big contract!

Keep writing!