January 27, 2019, saw the 68th edition of the NFL Pro Bowl. And, as it happens every year, the return of the Pro Bowl begs the question: why do we still have a Pro Bowl game?
For starters, the Pro Bowl does not attract many viewers, especially not when compared to regular season games or the Super Bowl. In 2018, the average regular season game attracted 15.8 million viewers, according to ESPN, which rose five percent from the year before. The Pro Bowl that year saw 8.6 million viewers, according to Sports Media Watch. The 2019 Pro Bowl saw a peak of 8.9 million viewers, according to Yahoo Sports. Comparatively, Super Bowl 52 in 2018 saw 103.4 million viewers--which even that was low. Although the Pro Bowl viewership holds steady with the viewership of other all-star games, it doesn't hold par with the NFL's regular viewership.
In 2019, the winning team in the Pro Bowl earned a paycheck of $70,000 per player, and the losing team walked away with a paycheck of 35 grand. In comparison, Super Bowl 52 winners, the Philadelphia Eagles took home $112,000 each, just from the Super Bowl alone--$191,000 for the entire postseason. The New England Patriots, who lost, took home $56,000 for the Super Bowl, $135,000 for the entire postseason, according to CNBC.
It makes sense that the teams in the Super Bowl make more money than the players in the Pro Bowl, as there's a lot more viewership. But the pay difference isn't as drastic as the viewership. I mean, for example, why do the losers of the Super Bowl make less in that one super important game than the winners of the Pro Bowl, where the NFL sees its lowest viewership? Sure, the Pro Bowl is supposed to be the "best of the best" players, but the two teams in the Super Bowl are supposedly the two best teams in the league, so why don't the losers get paid more than the winners of the Pro Bowl?
A good number of the best players in the NFL choose not to play in the Pro Bowl because of the fear of injury, or just a lack of interest. For the 2019 Pro Bowl, Kanas City Chief's tight end Travis Kelce, Dallas Cowboys' tackle Tyron Smith, Baltimore Ravens' defensive tackle Geno Atkins, Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, among other players, opted out of participating in the Pro Bowl. That fear of injury also typically drives a lack-luster effort from the players.
The 2012 Pro Bowl saw Associated Press calling out players for "playing at half-speed and ready to extend their Hawaiian vacation" and "hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight." The fear of injury was seen in the 2019 Pro Bowl, when two wide receivers, Pittsburgh Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Los Angeles Chargers' Keenan Allen, both suffered knee injuries. At the same time, the Pro Bowl saw three running backs playing defense and a wide receiver catch an interception.
Even with those fiascoes, the fans who do tune in to the Pro Bowl often just mock it and take to social media to express their frustration with how meaningless the Pro Bowl really is. One fan tweeted that "there's no possible way to make no stakes football interesting. Football's entire allure revolves around the mythology of these gladiators putting their bodies on the line in their quest for glory. If that's removed, football just isn't appealing."
And most fans agree with that fan. Football without any stakes whatsoever holds no entertainment value to Americans. If there's nothing to compete for, why is there a competition at all?
However, the Pro Bowl will never end, not so long as it receives as many views as it does. Even though the majority of its viewership comes from people criticizing the game, to the NFL, it's still viewership. It's still making them some amount of money. So if we ever want the Pro Bowl to end as it is today--a meaningless, nothing at stake football game--we really need to stop watching it all together. Seriously. Just don't watch the game. It's that simple.
Maybe then the NFL will actually listen to the complaints of the viewers in full.