On Jan. 29, the AFC and NFC squared off in the annual NFL Pro Bowl. What transpired was actually a somewhat competitive game, in which players actually seemed to care a little bit about the outing at hand. It would ultimately be the AFC who came out on top with a 20-13 victory.
Then Monday came, and the ratings for the game were released. To put it mildly, it wasn’t too pretty.
The Pro Bowl this year drew a 4.6 overnight rating, according to Sports Media Watch. That number is an 8 percent drop off last year’s game and is the lowest rating in a decade. Though the product on the field seemed to be improved over recent years, ratings did not come even close to reflecting this.
The NFL made several adjustments to the Pro Bowl in an effort to create a better game and atmosphere that drew in a bigger audience. First, the NFL signed a three-year deal to hold the Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Additionally, the game returned to the traditional AFC-NFC format after the last three Pro Bowls featured teams formed through a fantasy draft. Lastly, the NFL looked to add more pizzazz to Pro Bowl week by adding the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, a series of competitions that pitted NFL stars against one another.
In the smaller picture, the Skills Showdown was a success, as it was the most watched program on ESPN last Thursday night, bringing in 989,000 viewers. However, when viewed in a broader spectrum, those numbers paled in comparison to the NBA regular season games played that same night, along with multiple cable news shows.
What does this mean for the Pro Bowl? The general consensus has been that the on-field product was supremely better than it had been in years past. Unlike past years, there was defense in this game. There was a goal line stand that prevented Ezekiel Elliott from getting into the end zone.
Jimmy Graham and Lorenzo Alexander got into a shouting match in the fourth quarter after a big hit. Jason Garrett was even arguing with the referees about a replay review in the final minute.
Even through all of this, ratings took a significant hit. Now, this can be attributed to the fact that, given the recent lack of success of the Pro Bowl, that interest is at an all-time low. No one would have expected a somewhat competitive game in which the players actually gave some sort of effort.
The NFL is faced with a tough decision. It must either accept defeat and ditch the Pro Bowl altogether, or continue the seemingly monotonous task of finding ways to fix the game. However, as has been proven over the last several years, this task appears impossible.
It’s tough with football. Rules don’t need to be relaxed in the NBA or MLB All-Star games. Football is a vicious sport and player safety is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially in the modern day NFL. However, when it comes right down to it, what are these players here to do? They’re in the NFL to play real football, not jog around the field at half speed for 60 minutes. Set the precedent ahead of time: if you want to play in the Pro Bowl, get ready to play real football.
Fans aren’t pleased with the product that exists nowadays, which is a glorified two-hand touch game. The NFL deserves credit, as it has done its part in trying to fix the game, however nothing has seemed to work. NFL fans can hope that Sunday’s game is a sign of things to come, and that the intensity and competitiveness of the game only increases as time passes.
The league needs to think fast, as soon enough it’ll be left with no choice but to ditch the game altogether.
Matt Ambrose is a journalism major from Exeter, N.H. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mambrose97.