Opinion: The Pro Bowl problem

Andrew Paulsen

Andrew Paulsen

Andrew Paulsen is a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

12.5 million people tuned into NBC’s broadcast of the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl Sunday night.

Did you?

Compared to 2011’s all-star pigskin game, this year’s ratings were down about 8 percent (8.6 rating to 7.9). Attendance at the game’s venue (Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii) was down by about 2 percent compared to 2011 (drop to 48,423 from 49,338).

Since the Pro Bowl has switched to the week-before-the-Super-Bowl format (prior to the 2010 Pro Bowl, it was traditionally held the weekend following the Big Game), in-stadium attendance in Hawaii has averaged 49,240 —which is nearly 2 percent less than the average attendance from 2000 to 2008 Pro Bowls in Aloha Stadium (50,183).

Essentially, the Pro Bowl is on the decline. Why?

It could be the unstable economy affecting ticket sales and travel expenses. It could be that fans don’t want to see lackluster performances by players who appear to care more about getting lei’d than making plays. It could be that football fans don’t care about meaningless games (in contrast, MLB’s All-Star game determines home-field advantage for the World Series).

However, all of these factors and detractors seemed to disappear momentarily back in January 2010. The NFL made the atypical decision of ending a 30-year tradition by transferring the Pro Bowl from Hawaii into Super Bowl XLIV venue, Sun Life Stadium (Miami, FL). 70,697 people attended that Pro Bowl, marking the second highest Pro Bowl attendance of all time.

One year later, the game was moved back to Honolulu and attendance dropped to 49,338.

What made people care so much about one NFL all-star game to explain the 42 percent increase in attendance from 2009 to 2010 followed by a sharp drop in 2011?

Aloha Stadium officially holds only 50,000 people (extra seating bumps that number up by several hundred at the max), while most Super Bowl-eligible stadiums hold at least 63,000 people (the lowest being Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — however, it will expand to 70,000 for the Super Bowl).

The most-attended Hawaiian Pro Bowls happened in 1984 and 1990 with a tie of 50,445 people. In order to put those games into perspective, here are the top five most-attended NFL Pro Bowls along with the stadiums/cities that hosted them:

5. The Kingdome (Seattle), 1977, 64,752

4. Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City), 1974, 66,918

3. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1964, 67,242

2. Aforementioned 2010 game in Miami, 70,697

1. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1959, 72,250

On Sunday night — coincidentally while the 2012 Pro Bowl struggled to match past attendance and viewership — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to talk about the NFL’s audience during the current recession. Goodell noted that one of the biggest struggles the NFL faces is boosting ticket sales for football games.

While I don’t have a solution of how to get butts in the seats at the NFL’s regular season games, I do have an idea to get fans in the Pro Bowl. Just look at the past, Mr. Goodell, and I think you’ll at least find the answer.