3 Ways the Pro Bowl Can Learn from MLB's All-Star Game
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
The best players under the brightest lights. A game that happens only once per year with a plethora of activities beforehand. Microphones, scrutinized practice sessions, jubilation, and celebration all around.
Does the event described above sound reminiscent of anything? Maybe the World Series or Super Bowl?
Nope. Such a depiction is actually fitting of the Pro Bowl, an event that takes place after Week 17 of each NFL season yet before the Big Game.
Though the Pro Bowl does possess its own pomp and circumstance, for years fans have complained that the game doesn’t exactly feel like an adequate consolation prize for having to watch two teams—likely not their favorites—square off in the biggest battle in the sports landscape, if not the world.
But even though its disparity in popularity relative to football is substantial, MLB definitively transcends the NFL in one facet: the All-Star Game and its preceding events.
With the Midsummer Classic happening just a few days ago, I thought it only made sense for the NFL to be introspective and learn how it can improve what many feel is a lackluster, meaningless showcase despite the echelon of participants.
Here are 3 ways in which the NFL can instantly take the Pro Bowl from an extra point to a game-winning field goal.
1. Move the Pro Bowl to Midway through the Regular Season
The NBA does it; so does baseball. What is it, you may ask?
Having a celebration of the respective sports’ finest players and most luminous stars during the season’s halfway point.
Despite the allure that the two aforementioned leagues’ All-Star Games always draw, the NFL insists on maintaining festivities after the whirlwind of the regular season.
But what would really allow football to augment the hype surrounding the Pro Bowl is to move it about 8 weeks earlier.
Fundamentally, one of the integral points in basketball and baseball’s ASGs is that players who had great halves (approximately) are celebrated.
Though many participants will, at the point of the All-Star Game, presumably proliferate astounding numbers and continue to make ludicrous plays, there is an element of suspense added in that several studs will likely not be able to sustain their absurd paces.
For example, after winning the 2017 Home Run Derby and participating in the Midsummer Classic in July, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge hit only .185 with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs in the month of August; just two flips of the calendar earlier, Judge put up a .324 BA with 10 HRs and 25 RBIs.
Furthermore, having the Pro Bowl earlier would allow squads—and enthusiasts—to really take a step back and appreciate their team’s successes or understand the areas in which their units can improve. And even for non-partaking players, pragmatically, they can have the ability to spend much-needed time with families and relax their likely-aching bodies in conjunction with sacred bye weeks.
If such a change were to occur, moreover, the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown—a great addition that is analogous to NBA "State Farm All-Star Saturday Night” and the MLB T-Mobile Home Run Derby—as well as the contest itself would likely occur on a Saturday and Sunday rather than a Thursday and a Sunday, which could better slot into fans’ busy schedules.
So why should the Pro Bowl happen, say, subsequent to Week 8? Because there will be a level of suspense and intrigue created that simply doesn’t exist in the status quo.
Each year, football's finest players take the field in Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Though the stadium serves as a wonderful--yet rainy--host each year, it's time for Commissioner Goodell to shake things up in terms of the event's location.
2. Change the Pro Bowl Location Each Year
As the calendar continues to turn, the NFL perennially seems to capitalize on Orlando’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex; likewise, it’s always fun to witness some of the strongest men in football be scared by a formidable rollercoaster at Disney Orlando Studios.
But, after fluctuating between Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium and Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, it is only logical for the NFL to, yet again, emulate its fellow major North American sports in altering the location of its festivities each year.
There is little doubt that changing the field or center in which the All-Star Game is held prevents long, dreary seasons from feeling redundant or stale.
For example, when one’s favorite team plays in the host stadium for that season, one thinks: Wow, this is where Mike Trout/LeBron James and the biggest stars in baseball/football are going to step foot later on. And even after the festivities, opposing organizations visiting host venues can almost remember donning that year’s unique jerseys and recall the true culmination of greatness in the league--all in one particular spot.
Speaking of uniforms, switching the location of each Pro Bowl would permit for the creation of city color/lore-based outfits, akin to that of the NBA’s and MLB’s All-Star Games. Could you imagine a Green Bay Packers-themed jersey in which the NFC donned yellow and the AFC wore green—maybe even fit with some cheesehead patches?
Not only are its traditional red- and blue-based jerseys, no matter the contemporary gradient of the numbers, getting bland, but moving the Pro Bowl around the country—or even around the world—could foster even more rapid growth of one of the best sports in the world.
Just look at the clamoring teams and cities have done for the perquisite to host the NFL Draft since its departure from Radio City Music Hall in 2015. It’s time for football to do the same with the Pro Bowl.
The Pro Bowl is intended to embrace camaraderie between superstars; however, critics have postulated that players don't leave their hearts out on the line in Orlando. With prizes that could have an impact later on in the season, however, participants' intensity should theoretically boost.
3. Up the Ante for Winning the Pro Bowl
I like the initiatives that the NFL has done to increase the incentive for players to try during the Pro Bowl, but more work needs to be done to pique contestant interest.
Per Statista, players on the winning Pro Bowl side next year will each receive $74,000 with the losers earning $37,000, both of which are no small sums of money.
But considering the prodigious salaries of a considerable portion of NFL players—especially Pro Bowlers--such money is tantamount to that of a fine and thus somewhat insignificant.
So instead of having pecuniary benefits of winning, the NFL should tap into an area that Major League Baseball long employed: creating tangible and meaningful prizes down the road for the victorious contingent.
Until 2016, the winners of the MLB All-Star Game had home field advantage for the World Series; since hardly any team is really eliminated from contention in July, almost every single player attempted to win considering how much one game, albeit exhibition, could sway their chances of earning a diamond ring 3 months later.
If football were to adopt a similar policy, what would be an equivalent reward?
The answer is a) the ability to call the coin toss before the Super Bowl, and b) the opportunity to choose team jerseys in the Big Game.
I get it; both of those provisions might seem trivial. After all, costume color doesn’t play a factor in performance (or does it?), and the winning side would still have a 50-50 shot at selecting their preferred option to kick things off.
But in both cases, there would, hypothetically, be some flavor of an advantage to emerging victorious in a game that currently, to be frank, doesn’t mean anything at all.
Under my suggested guidelines, such a proposal would dramatically influence players’ effort during the showdown, another contentious point.
Considering how much a team’s season can change with over half of their games left to be played, Pro Bowlers would innately want to win so that they could have an improved chance at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Moreover, there would likely be fewer substitutions and alternates necessary, as players would presumably understand the value in the matchup—not just for the fans of the game or to represent their owners, coaches, teammates, and more, but also for their own potential legacies.
Don’t get me wrong, the recent changes to the Pro Bowl format have transformed it from watching Tom Brady try to run into Mitch Trubisky’s emergence as a mobile QB. But more work needs to be done in anticipation of next year’s contest—quintessentially, moving the Pro Bowl to midseason, differentiating its annual location, and adding Super Bowl privileges so that what used to be a blip on the radar can come into as its own as the perfect showstopper of the majestic NFL.