The Pro Bowl should be in Hawaii. I know there are plenty of people that don’t really care about the Pro Bowl or where it is played, but I still wanted to point out that it’s bigger than an exhibition game for the community where it is played. For the last few years, and for the foreseeable future, it is in Orlando. From a financial/logistical standpoint, it makes sense, especially once the NFL committed to moving the Pro Bowl to between Conference Championship Week and the Super Bowl. It’s a far shorter journey for the league executives, media, and players to go from Orlando to Atlanta (or Miami or New Orleans or anywhere on the Continental U.S.).
I’ll also acknowledge that from a business perspective, it makes sense to be elsewhere. The Pro Bowl used to be played after the season ended. There was nowhere else to go the next week. When the NFL switched to its current weekend, there was an initial spike in television ratings. Those have dipped some, but even considering that, the most recent three-year stretch on ESPN averaged about two million more viewers than the equivalent three-year stretch before the move, on ESPN, a decade ago.
A few years ago, Roger Goodell said of the move to Orlando:
“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,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Collaborating with Disney and ESPN brings us closer to the best in youth and family-focused entertainment.”
“Our decision to move the Pro Bowl to a different location was not related to funding, Aloha Stadium or Hawaii’s ability to host the game,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events. “We value our partnership and look forward to continuing our community grants to nonprofits in Hawaii for the next three years and working with the State and the (Hawaii Tourism Authority) on future opportunities.”
The relationship with Disney and Orlando no doubt brings in a greater swath of tourism to the game. But here’s who is affected by it: the military, the families of the military, and the kids who cannot get to the NFL games any other way. If you are in Orlando, you are a short drive from three NFL franchises, and attending games throughout the year. Hawaii has a large military presence, and a lot of military kids who are there, or on bases in the Pacific where a journey to Honolulu is far more achievable.
I went over there five years ago, and got to experience firsthand the week of the Pro Bowl. The game itself, to me, is inconsequential. But the interaction within those communities is priceless. Military members and military kids donning their favorite player jerseys packed out a public practice for the teams a short distance from Pearl Harbor. It was a special moment. With all of the lip service that we have seen from the NFL on military appreciation, the move away from Honolulu is another example that flies in the face of that. I know that the monetary factors favor elsewhere, but I think it belongs in Hawaii.