The Pro Bowl, everyone agrees, stinks. So why does the NFL keep it around?
Because millions of people watch it, because it’s football, and because it’s on TV.
That point was hammered home once again this week when the NBA All-Star Game delivered 7.6 million viewers. That number, which is the combined number of viewers on both TNT and TBS, was touted as a big success for the NBA and an increase over last year. But it’s still short of the Pro Bowl, which saw a huge ratings decrease this year — down to 8 million viewers.
If TNT and TBS are thrilled to share 7.6 million viewers for the NBA All-Star Game, there’s no reason for ESPN not to be thrilled with the 8 million viewers who tuned into the Pro Bowl. And as long as ESPN (or another network) is thrilled enough with the ratings that it’s willing to pay the NFL to broadcast the Pro Bowl, why wouldn’t the NFL keep playing the Pro Bowl?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he’s “disappointed” by the quality of play in the Pro Bowl, and acknowledged that the league needs to find a way to make it a more entertaining game. But it’s hard to see how canceling the whole thing, as some fans have suggested, would be the change the league would make. The game is still a profitable endeavor for the NFL.
Despite the NBA’s increased ratings over last year, All-Star games are declining in popularity across the board: Major League Baseball, which has long had the most popular All-Star game in American sports, saw an all-time low 10.9 million viewers last year on FOX, and ratings for the NBA All Star Game were trending downward until this year. In the old days, fans had few opportunities to see games that didn’t involve their home teams, and so an opportunity to see the biggest stars was a big deal. These days, fans have NFL Sunday Ticket or NBA League Pass or MLB Extra Innings, and they can see all the sports’ biggest stars whenever they want. All-Star games are no longer special.
But while All-Star games aren’t the big deal they once were, they’re not going away any time soon. Not as long as millions of fans continue to watch.