Bloomberg News

NFL Pro Bowl’s Future in Jeopardy as Fans Boo, Players Criticize

April 26, 2012

The future of the National Football League’s annual Pro Bowl may be in jeopardy following diminished television ratings and criticism from league players and executives and booing from fans in attendance.

The 2013 game is scheduled for Jan. 27, though no location for the contest has been announced. League spokesman Greg Aiello said today in a statement on his Twitter page that the NFL was in discussions with the league’s players association regarding the game’s future.

“No decision has been made on this season’s game,” Aiello said.

The Pro Bowl, played following the regular season by teams composed of the top vote-getters from players, coaches and the public, has come under criticism for lack of effort and poor quality of play.

Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, is “strongly considering” suspending this year’s game, ESPN said today citing an unidentified person. He recently asked players for suggestions to improve the game, and told ESPN Radio earlier this year that the league had to address the annual All-Star game.

“We’re either going to have to improve the quality of what we’re doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes, or even considering eliminating the game if that’s the kind of quality game we’re going to provide,” Goodell told ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning on Feb. 6, one week after the 2012 game. “If the fans are responding negatively to what we’re doing, we better listen.”

Should the game be suspended, the league would still conduct balloting during the regular season, and instruct teams to honor Pro Bowl incentive clauses by converting them into player contracts, according to ESPN. The players chosen as the best in each conference would likely be part of a ceremony during Super Bowl week, the network said.

Union spokesman George Atallah did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the status of negotiations with the league, or what a canceled game could mean for players who have Pro Bowl bonuses in their contracts.

“The Pro Bowl is an important tradition,” NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth, who played last year with the Baltimore Ravens, said today on his social network Twitter account. “We are in talks with the league to improve and preserve the game for our players and fans.”

Last season’s Pro Bowl, won 59-41 by the American Football Conference in the highest scoring game in Pro Bowl history, was watched by 7.9 percent of U.S. homes in the top 56 metered television markets, an 8.1 percent drop from the 2011 game, according to USA Today. The game drew boos from fans in attendance and criticism from players.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told ESPN Radio after the game that some players on the National Football Conference team “embarrassed themselves” with their lack of effort.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was a little disappointed,” Rodgers, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, said Jan. 31 on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee show. “There should be some pride involved in a game like that.”

Packers guard T.J. Lang, who has not played in a Pro Bowl, called the game a “jog-through” on his Twitter page, adding that he found Public Broadcasting Service’s “Antiques Roadshow” more entertaining. Rodgers said that players treat the game lightly because they are afraid of getting injured, especially given that the league has no guaranteed contracts.

“I don’t know what the NFL can do to improve that tempo,” Rodgers said. “Maybe offer more money for a victory than a loss -- make the spread that much more.”

Players on the winning team each receive $50,000 for the victory, while losing players are paid $25,000, according to the radio station.

-- Editor: Michael Sillup, Jay Beberman

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net


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