When I was 10 years old, all-star games kicked ass. I watched them all, start to finish. I cared about who won, who lost, who got MVP. I was fascinated by the concept of bringing my favorite players together on one team.
But when I was 10 years old, I was also fascinated by a quartet of anthropomorphic Italian turtles fighting crime on behalf of a freakishly large rat.
At a certain age, most of us realize that all-star games offer nothing. To most adults, the entertainment value of a sporting event deprived of competition is nil. Most of us would probably rather watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on our Sunday afternoons. The issue is that all-star games are better on paper than they are in reality. Putting together two teams containing the league’s best players is fun for all ages, but without anything on the line, the actual games are anticlimactic. The best part is finding out who made each squad. It’s all downhill from there.
That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the NFL is on the verge of sending the Pro Bowl to its grave, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Sources tell Mort that the league will likely “suspend” the game this season and beyond.
Football is the most popular sport in the United States, but you could argue that its all-star game is the worst among the country’s major professional sports. There’s less of an injury risk in baseball and basketball, and both of those sports are better equipped to offer quasi-entertaining exhibitions. But without something on the line, and with so many players staying away for practical reasons, the Pro Bowl is less capable of impressing fans in such a format.
Still, the Pro Bowl kills in the ratings. This past year, the game led all sports telecasts over the final weekend of January with an overnight Nielsen rating of 7.9. By comparison, a regular-season Bulls-Heat NBA matchup drew a 4.1 and the final round of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open landed a 2.0.
I’d love to expand on how bad the Pro Bowl is but — despite being paid to watch football — I can’t tune in. I just can’t do it. It hurts my football-loving soul. And so I can’t even begin to comprehend how an estimated 12.5 million people — 99.999 percent of whom aren’t paid to watch the sport — made a conscious decision to tune in (and those numbers were down 8 percent from 2011).
But football is football, and whatever the NFL touches turns to Nielsen gold. The networks know that, which is why they don’t fear wasting a Sunday night prime-time slot on a sick joke.
So, if you’re the NFL, why stop playing the game? I mean, it’s a general consensus that commissioner Roger Goodell and his colleagues at 280 Park Avenue are heartless, money-grubbing suits who exist with the sole intention of increasing the bottom line, right?
If the Pro Bowl turns a profit, why kill it?
Just guessing here, but maybe the league is beginning to realize that the revenue generated by the game on television isn’t worth the damage it does to the shield. Goodell is clearly embarrassed by it, and the money made on it is still tantamount to a drop in an overflowing bucket.
If the plug is indeed pulled on the Pro Bowl, it won’t bother me or anyone I associate myself with (if you’re a closet Pro Bowl enthusiast, keep your shame bottled up). But I do wonder about the kids. While the NFL’s target audience is men young and old, the Pro Bowl’s target audience was — or at least should have been — those naive 10-year-old boys whose brains haven’t developed to enough of a degree to notice how mundane and downright depressing the game is.
They’re the victims, I suppose. Oh, and maybe some NFL fans living in Hawaii. But don’t expect me to mourn for them. After all, they live in Hawaii.
Brad Gagnon is a freelance NFL writer, follow him on Twitter @Brad_Gagnon