By Barry Janoff
June 1, 2016: The NFL Pro Bowl, criticized for being dull, unprofessional and generally not worthy of the time and effort the league puts into it, is getting an extensive makeover, including a new venue, a multitude of lead-in and supporting events, a revamped ticketing process, a return to its previous roster format and the addition of the Disney Co. to bring magic and entertainment to the event.
The NFL is moving the game in 2017 to Camping World Stadium in Orlando, with a scheduled date of Jan. 29, in keeping with the tradition of holding the event one week before the Super Bowl (being played on Feb. 5 in Houston).
The league is expanding it to a Pro Bowl Week, which would "celebrate all levels of football — from youth to high school to the NFL’s best."
Disney will have a multi-level involvement, including hosting Pro Bowl AFC and NFC practices, youth football competitions, activities and fan events in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort and staging events in its reconfigured and enhanced Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
The game itself will be shown live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (8 PM ET).
“We are excited to re-imagine the Pro Bowl experience for both fans and players and to celebrate the game of football at all levels,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday (June 1) during a media event to unveil the new-look Pro Bowl.
“Collaborating with Disney and ESPN brings us closer to the best in youth and family-focused entertainment. We look forward to working with the city of Orlando and Florida Citrus Sports to create a week-long celebration for football and our fans," said Goodell.
Although not addressed in detail, the expanded time-frame enables NFL marketing partners and local brands to activate around the events as well as the game.
The 2017 Pro Bowl will see a return to the traditional AFC vs. NFC game format following three years using what was called an "unconferenced" format, with honorary team captains "drafting" players by position but irregardless of conference. The 88 players selected for the 2017 game – 44 from the AFC and 44 from the NFC – will be determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches.
Camping World Stadium will also be the site for a pre-season game between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, scheduled for Aug. 25.
The league did not reveal whether or not the game would be played in the venue beyond 2017.
The Pro Bowl had been played in Hawaii's Aloha Stadium from 1980-2009. The NFL moved it to Miami for 2010 in an experiment to coincide with Super Bowl XLIV, which was being played the following week in South Florida.
The Pro Bowl returned to Hawaii for the next four years, but the league moved it again in 2015 to Arizona to coincide with Super Bowl XLIX a week later in the University of Phoenix Stadium.
The NFL said that other cities expressed interest in the Pro Bowl, including Houston, which again would have tied-in with the Super Bowl.
The move is similar to one the league undertook with the NFL Draft, moving it in 2015 to Chicago following almost 60 years in New York, and also expanding and enhancing surrounding events, marketing and activations.
The Pro Bowl games in Hawaii averaged about 50,000 fans. The 2010 game in Miami had an attendance of 70,697, and the 2015 game in Arizona had an attendance of 63,225.
Camping World Stadium, which in 2014 underwent a $207 million renovation, seats more than 60,000. It is the home for the MLS Orlando Pride.
Camping World acquired multi-year naming rights this past April. It opened in 1936 as Orlando Stadium and has been known at various times as the Tangerine Bowl and the Citrus Bowl. In 2008, it hosted WWE WrestleMania XXIV, at which more than 74,600 people were in attendance.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority, which worked with the NFL to stage the game, said the 2014 game provided the state with some $26.5 million in media exposure and attracted 15,000 visitors who might not have otherwise traveled there.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hosted the Pro Bowl from 1951-1972, but was then played in various NFL stadiums from 1973-78 — including the Orange Bowl in Miami — before moving to Hawaii.
Among the highlights of Pro Bowl Week:
• Pro Bowl AFC and NFC practices will be held alongside youth football competitions, activities and fan events at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, which annually hosts more than 100 youth sports events, such as the Pop Warner Super Bowl.
• The 2017 Pro Bowl players will also be able to invite their former youth or high school coach to be a part of the celebrations during the week. Players on the winning Pro Bowl team will receive a grant from the NFL Foundation to support their youth or high school football program.
“Collaborating with Disney and ESPN brings us closer to the best in youth and family-focused entertainment."
• The annual USA Football National Conference will take place during the week leading up to the Pro Bowl. USA Football, the sport's national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, leads the largest annual conference of high school and youth football administrators and high school coaches in the United States.
• The Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award winner will be announced during the Pro Bowl as part of a year-long recognition of high school coaches on ESPN. The award honors high school football coaches that display the integrity, achievement, and leadership exemplified by Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history.
• Pro Bowl festivities for youth and their families will take place throughout the week across Orlando, including a Pro Bowl-themed 5k run and a parade of Pro Bowl players in Disney World.
Beginning this fall, "first priority access to Pro Bowl game tickets will go to season ticket members of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the other 29 NFL clubs and Florida Citrus Sports," accordingn to the league.
Remaining inventory of Pro Bowl game tickets would be available for purchase by the public in November. The NFL said that people could register on ProBowl.com for "exclusive pre-sale opportunities and additional information" on Pro Bowl Week fan events in Orlando.
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