The NFL announced the changes Monday and said the event will be called the Pro Bowl Games.
“We’ve received invaluable feedback from players, teams and fans about reimagining the Pro Bowl, and as a result, we’re thrilled to use The Pro Bowl Games as a platform to spotlight Flag football as an integral part of the sport’s future while also introducing fun, new forms of competition and entertainment that will bring our players, their families and fans closer than ever before,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business and league events, said in a statement.
The league said it will continue to incorporate fan voting into the selection of Pro Bowl players. The events leading up to the flag football game will include “unique competitions” involving both “football and non-football skills,” the NFL said.
NFL considers eliminating the Pro Bowl
ABC and ESPN will carry the flag football game, according to the league’s announcement, and Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and his production company will be involved in planning the programming. The NFL said the event will highlight its partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had mentioned the possibility of eliminating the Pro Bowl for at least the past decade amid discussions on that topic between the league and team owners. The idea became particularly prominent this year at the May owners’ meeting in Atlanta.
“We talked an awful lot about [how] some of the events around the Pro Bowl are really extraordinarily popular, whether it’s the quarterback challenge or some of the other events,” Goodell said then. “So those are things that we’ll probably go with.”
The discussions about eliminating the full-contact game involved the NFL Players Association and individual players, Goodell said in May. The games mostly were low-intensity affairs, with players generally going at half speed — or slower — to avoid suffering injuries in meaningless exhibitions. Yet they continued to draw considerable TV viewership. Last season, 6.7 million viewers watched the Pro Bowl; it was reportedly the smallest television audience for the game since 2006 but still significant. That interest made it difficult for the league to ditch the game entirely.
Even so, the NFL is moving on to its new format.
“I think what we tried to lay out is what we’ve been talking to the NFLPA about and many of our players individually,” Goodell said in May. “I’ve spoken to several players myself about what works and what doesn’t work. I think the conclusion was that the game itself doesn’t work and that we needed to find a different way to celebrate our players, celebrate the fact of these being our Pro Bowl players and the best players in our league, and give them an opportunity to celebrate that with our fans.”
The Pro Bowl had been played since 1951. The game initially was held in Los Angeles for more than two decades. Later, it was played in Honolulu for nearly three decades, through 2009.