The NFL Pro Bowl is getting a bigger platform.
ESPN announced Wednesday that in 2018 the game will air on ABC for the first time since 2003, as part of a simulcast with ESPN. The Pro Bowl will be played at 3 p.m. Jan. 28 in Orlando, a week before the Super Bowl.
This won’t be ABC’s first dabble in televising the Pro Bowl. The network has aired the game 22 times, most recently from 1995-2003. ESPN has carried the game exclusively each of the past three seasons, following a long run where the Super Bowl network would also broadcast the Pro Bowl.
“The Pro Bowl has become a fun, week-long event that celebrates the game of football and the NFL’s top players,” ESPN executive Burke Magnus said in a statement. “We’re excited to return to Orlando to showcase the NFL’s best on ESPN and ABC.”
Contrary to that bubbly statement, the Pro Bowl is often derided as the worst of the major sports’ All-Star games, and indeed it has some pretty inherent flaws. Most importantly, it’s tough to play football with any seriousness without risking injury, and no one wants to get hurt in an exhibition. The game often features diluted rosters, as many stars pass on the opportunity and others can’t play because they’re preparing for the Super Bowl.
The 2018 Pro Bowl won’t be any more exciting than any previous editions of the game, but ratings should obviously rise substantially given the simulcast. Though viewership for the Pro Bowl has been down in recent years, it still draws a pretty healthy audience on account of the fact it’s an NFL event and America unquestioningly adores all things NFL.
The NFL and its TV partners have been trying for a while to give the Pro Bowl some life, scheduling it before the Super Bowl instead of after, trying out different locations and introducing various skills challenges leading up to the game. It figures that after those attempts had mixed results, ESPN and ABC came up with an easier plan to boost ratings: simply show the game on more channels.