The Long & Overdue Death of the Pro Bowl
The NFL has killed its All-Star game, a move that other leagues should consider as quality and ratings have continued to plummet
It is not often that I decide to take a victory lap, but today is one of those days. For years I have lamented the existence of the American professional sports All-Star game. It has been my view that these games add little to nothing of value and that they shouldn’t be played. Players are rightfully cautious in these exhibitions to avoid injury and the result is a lackluster product. It appears that the NFL has finally decided to see reason and abolish the Pro Bowl, a decision that is the correct one and one that other leagues should copy moving forward.
Bring on the Skills Competition
If there was a sport that was going to abolish its All-Star game, it had to be football. It is the most violent game in American sports and as such the one with the most potential for injury. NFL players have the shortest average careers with the average NFL career only lasting 3.3 years (compared to 4.5 years in the NBA). The combination of these two factors has led to Pro Bowl exhibitions that were not even close to resembling the football we see on Sundays, with players playing at ¼ speed hoping to avoid injury.
So as a result, the NFL has decided to go in another direction. Replacing the game will be a variety of skills competitions and a flag football game. The idea here is simple, the Pro Bowl lacks wide appeal because it is not competitive due to the fear of injury. The solution is to introduce methods of competition for players that bring out a more competitive nature. A flag football game can do this as there will be no tackling and will be a showcase of the NFL’s case to adding flag football as an Olympic sport in the future.
With the skills competitions, the beauty of football is that there are a lot of ways that the league could go to create exciting competitions. Some that stick out immediately are an arm strength competition for the quarterbacks, a 40 or 100-yard dash for the speedy wide receivers, or even an obstacle course for running backs and defensive backs. Because of the varying skill sets of NFL players, there are many possibilities to deliver content before the flag football main event.
This is a move that was necessary for the NFL to make, the Pro Bowl has had declining viewership since 2006 and was simply not exciting any fans. For a league that has grown accustomed to dominating the American sports landscape, a change had to be made. The question that remains is if other sports will follow the NFL’s lead.
In the last decade, we have seen tweaks in formats and rule changes to All-Star games in all sports. The NBA shifted to a draft of the players as opposed to separating by conferences and even instituted a scoring structure revamp to drive more competitive play. In baseball, the MLB made its All-Star game the most consequential with the winner deciding home-field advantage in the World Series (which is no longer in practice). But despite these attempts at making the event more appealing, these games have been lackluster at best because the players are not invested in them.
What players and fans alike seem to be invested in are the competitions as opposed to the games. People look forward to the Home Run Derby and the Slam Dunk Contest a lot more than they look forward to the actual All-Star Game. Now that the NFL has been the first league to take the plunge, there is an incentive for other leagues to do so as well. This could pave the way for more skills competitions in the NBA such as passing contests, potential 3-on-3 tournaments, and more. Baseball could implement arm strength competitions with outfielders and speed competitions among pitchers.
The benefit of going to this mini-game strategy is that they are fun for the players without risk of major injury and appealing to the fans as well. The lack of major injury potential will cause players to put forth an effort in these games and as a result of that, a better overall product will be on display. By and large, the existence of All-Star games has always been because they are the status quo. We are presented with them annually because that’s the way that it has always been done. But what is the point if the players don’t care and as a result, the fans don’t either?
The NFL has taken a step in the right direction by realizing that the Pro Bowl was a subpar product and made the decision to get rid of it. Time will tell if the MLB and NBA will follow suit, but the chances are excellent that they will. After all, the NFL is the market leader in American sports, and when they make a decision people notice. So perhaps this is the end of the All-Star game, and let me be the first to say good riddance.