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Why The NFL, NFLPA, NBC and Hawaii Unpulled The Plug On The Pro Bowl

By Barry Janoff

May 31, 2012: In the end, the NFL had more than 12 million reasons not to shut down its long-running, but what was deemed fatally flawed, all-star game.

The league said on Wednesday that the 2013 Pro Bowl would go ahead as scheduled, on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. NBC will air the game, which the NFL called a "signature event to kick off the week leading up to the Super Bowl."

Super Bowl XLVII will be played on Sunday, Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Big Game will be on CBS.

The Pro Bowl — which has a history that dates back to 1939 and has been held in Hawaii 32 times — seemed on life support following the game in January. The 59-41 win by the AFC over the NFC was viewed by critics from both inside and out of the league as being substandard.

Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that canceling the game was within the realm of possibility.

During a press conference this month to coincide with league-wide OTAs, commissioner Goodell addressed the Pro Bowl and meetings he had with the NFL Players Assn., including executive director DeMaurice Smith.

"We’ve had numerous discussions over several months about what we can do to make the game more competitive," the commissioner stated. "I’ve said it repeatedly, particularly since the last game, that we have to improve the quality of that game. If we can’t improve it and can’t make it more competitive, then we shouldn’t play."

The NFL and the NFLPA came together and decided they would work hard to make the Pro Bowl work, although it was not specified how and what changes would be made.

“The players have made it clear through the NFL Players Association that they would like the opportunity to continue to play the Pro Bowl in Hawaii,” Ray Anderson, NFL evp-football operations, said in a statement. “We have had many discussions with the players in recent years about the Pro Bowl and they recognize that the quality of the game has not been up to NFL standards."

According to NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth, "The players believe that the Pro Bowl is an important tradition. We worked hard with the league to make sure the best players in the NFL are honored for their achievements on the field."

Despite what was seen as sub-par on-field play, the 2012 Pro Bowl proved to be a hit with viewers. The game on NBC was watched by an average of 12.5 million viewers, which was down nearly a million viewers from the previous year (13.4 million) but still making it the second most-watched Pro Bowl since 2001, according to the NFL. The NFL and NBC also said it was the most-watched all-star game during the 2011 season.

The Pro Bowl was held consecutively in Hawaii from 1980 to 2009. In 2010, the NFL for the first time moved the game to the week before the Super Bowl and relocated to Sun Life Stadium in South Florida, site of that year's Super Bowl XLIV. There was talk of moving the 2013 game to New Orleans, but that ultimately was rejected.

The Pro Bowl returned to Hawaii for the 2011 and 2012 games. This season's game will be played the week before the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. Which is good news for Hawaii.

"I’ve said repeatedly, particularly since the last game, that we have to improve the quality. If we can’t, then we shouldn’t play."

"I have had discussions with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the NFL to look at ways in which we can provide a renewed experience for the game next year for the players, visitors, people of Hawaii and fans the world over," Gov. Neil Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star. "Hawaii has a variety of cultural experiences to offer and we want to be sure to highlight our uniqueness beyond the beauty of our landscape."

Added Mike McCartney, president of the  Hawaii Tourism Authority, "We are extremely pleased the NFL will return to the Hawaiian Islands in 2013 for the Pro Bowl, and are grateful for our more than 30 year partnership. Many of us believe that there is no better place in the world to host this game."

"We will support the players on this initiative to improve the Pro Bowl," said Anderson. "We look forward to working with the players toward the goal of improving the competitiveness of this season’s game.”

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