By: Riley Day
Feb. 23, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
This past fall, the NFL announced substantial changes to the format of the 2023 Pro Bowl. Instead of the brightest stars from the AFC facing off in a head-to-head against the NFC, a complete overhaul was instituted. The new format now includes a series of skills competitions that take place throughout the week between Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. Dubbed “The Pro Bowl Games,” participants from the AFC and NFC will collect points for their respective conference, and the conference with the most overall points will win.
This year, the skills competitions began on Thursday, Feb. 2 and included events such as best catch and precision passing, with the winner of each individual event garnering three points for their conference. The festivities were capped off on Sunday, Feb. 5 with two flag football games, each worth six points.
The NFC, led by Kirk Cousins, came from behind to defeat the AFC and capture the first victory of the new Games. Both teams went home with a nice chunk of change: NFC players earned $84,000 apiece for their victory, and the AFC $42,000 just for their participation.
As the popularity of the Pro Bowl Games increases, the NFL could place more weight on the results of the Games, possibly granting special privileges to the winners, like the MLB has done in the past with their All-Star Game. Since the NFC won this year, maybe the Minnesota Vikings could host the next Super Bowl. Fans are not going to care about the Pro Bowl Games until the NFL gives them specific reasons why they should.
Last year, the 2022 Pro Bowl ratings were at their lowest since 2006, drawing in 6.7 million viewers, according to Ausin Karp of the Sport Business Journal. While this may not be a large number in comparison to what the NFL usually rakes in, this is still significant viewership. In comparison, the NBA All-Star Game garnered 5.9 million viewers in 2021, and it is considered to be much more successful.
This year, the Pro Bowl Games drew 6.28 million viewers. Considering the switch in format and how well-publicized it was, people did still tune in to watch the games. That leads us to the question: will the Pro Bowl be a viewership failure, no matter what format is implemented?
When looking at ways to maintain interest around the games, Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports has an interesting suggestion: instituting a Hard Knocks docuseries production centered around the Pro Bowl. Due to the proven track record of success for football docuseries, with an average of 3.7 million viewers over the past five years, this idea could help to generate buzz and excitement around the Pro Bowl.
It is unknown what the future of the NFL Pro Bowl will look like; however, there are many exciting possibilities in the works. Having a series of skills competitions throughout the week leading up to the Pro Bowl gives the NFL lots of flexibility moving forward. “Skills competitions” allow NFL players to showcase their talents and athleticism in new fun and creative ways. This year, we were treated to “Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball,” “Longest Drive (Yes, with golf clubs),” and even “Kick Tac Toe.”
Another aspect worth mentioning is that each individual event can have its own sponsor, such as “Best Catch presented by Uber Eats,” and “Precision Passing presented by EA Sports Madden NFL 23 Mobile.” These types of partnership opportunities could allow the NFL to collaborate with unique brands that could introduce new creative skills competitions as well as increase fan engagement.