Football is the most popular sport in the United States. Cork Gaines, a sports writer for Business Insider, illustrates that fact by pointing out that among the top-50 rated televised sporting events in 2013, 92 percent were National Football League games.
The statistic is impressive and shows that football has been woven into the fabric of American viewership and culture. The wild popularity of the sport leaves one to ponder why ratings have declined for the showcase of the NFL’s most talented players – The Pro Bowl.
Seth Kaplan of Fox 9 News in Minnesota reported that the 2014 Pro Bowl game received 11.7 million viewers on Sunday, which was a half-million fewer than the 12.2 million viewers who watched the 2013 game. Kaplan added that there were 12.5 million viewers in 2012.
The Pro Bowl wasn’t even close to being the most viewed event Sunday evening. The star-studded event was edged out by the Grammys with 28.5 million viewers. The decline in viewership of the NFL’s showcase of talent could be due to the dismal effort and soft defense the players displayed in 2013.
Roger Goddell, the commissioner of the NFL, said that last year’s performance, or lack thereof, was an embarrassment to the game. Goddell made changes to the format of the contest, which is taking the Pro Bowl in more positive direction.
This season, Goddell disbanded the notion of playing for a conference and instituted a fantasy draft for all players who were named to the 2014 Pro Bowl. He commissioned that Hall of Fame members Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice pick the teams in a televised setting to allow the fans to experience something new.
The inaugural format had teammates playing against one another, and even exchanging bone-crushing hits. Teammate interaction on the field was highlighted by Browns’ safety T.J. Ward hitting wide receiver and teammate Josh Gordon and completely flipping him head over heels – Gordon almost stuck the landing.
The new Pro Bowl setup created buzz and raised the level of intensity to a more regular season game experience, but the NFL needs to do more if it wants to increase the event’s television rating.
The biggest flaw of the Pro Bowl is that the players participating in the Super Bowl are left out. Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are just a few of the elite stars that the American public did not get to see on Sunday.
The Pro Bowl is a presentation of the best the NFL has to offer, and with these names not on the field, the fans are being cheated. This problem could be solved by adopting the National Hockey League’s approach to all-star games, which places the game at the midpoint of the season.
The Pro Bowl should be moved to week 10 of the regular season, which would extend the season to 18 weeks. The game would serve as a natural bye week for players left off the all-pro ballot, which almost seems necessary with the addition of more Thursday night games.
All the players in the Pro Bowl would be in midseason form and hopefully they will be playing their best football.
Goddell said he felt that Sunday’s game was played like “real football,” but lackadaisical effort could be a reoccurring problem. The NFL could take a page out of Major League Baseball’s book and make the classic a more interesting spectacle.
A solution to this problem is that the NFL could raise funds to give donations to the favorite charity of each member of the winning team. The charity fundraiser would give players more incentive to play to win, and would also look favorable for the NFL.
The final change that is necessary for the 2015 Pro Bowl is combining what the NHL and MLB have done to make an event of their showcases. The MLB televises the home run derby and the NHL televises the skills competition.
The NFL needs to implement a televised skill competition to be viewed on Saturday to create more positive buzz for Sunday’s matinée. The fastest player in the NFL, longest field goal, punting hang time and a 1 vs. 1 jump ball competition in the corner of the end zone are a few ideas that could excite the football fan base.
Despite the declining television ratings of the Pro Bowl, the game made a step in the right direction this year. Goddell needs keep the changes rolling, and with the implementation of these three guidelines, ratings should be on the rise.