Pro Bowl ratings show why NFL is keeping it around

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Despite plenty of talk that the Pro Bowl has become such a joke of an exhibition that the NFL ought to scrap it, the NFL’s version of an all-star game will return once again this season, on the Sunday before the Super Bowl. And anyone who’s wondering why the Pro Bowl stays around just needs to look at the TV ratings.

Sports Media Watch put out a list of the 50 most-watched sporting events of the year so far, and the list shows what a TV ratings juggernaut the NFL is: The Super Bowl is No. 1 by a huge margin, of course, and the rest of the Top 10 consists of nine NFL playoff games.

But what’s really striking is the rating for the Pro Bowl, which drew 12.5 million viewers on NBC on January 29. Yes, that makes it the lowest-rated NFL broadcast of 2012, but that’s still an enormous TV audience. To put the ratings in perspective, the Pro Bowl drew more viewers than the Major League Baseball All-Star game, which is the highest-rated baseball game of the year so far. The Pro Bowl also got better ratings than any hockey game this year, better ratings than all of the NBA conference finals games except Game 7 between the Celtics and Heat, better ratings than the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, better ratings than the final round of the U.S. Open and better ratings than a great Sugar Bowl game between Michigan and Virginia Tech.

In other words, the NFL’s dominance over the TV ratings landscape extends even to a game that was so bad that the league’s MVP, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, said some of his fellow players embarrassed themselves. And that makes it easy to see why the league and its TV partners would want to keep the game around.