The Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game, is this season set for a significant overhaul as the League seeks to reinvent the concept to make it a better experience for both fans and players.
Held in recent years on the Sunday before Super Bowl, this season’s event on February 5 at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, will be reimagined as ‘The Pro Bowl Games’, with the traditional full-contact game being eliminated entirely.
Under plans initially set out in September, the NFL now envisages the Pro Bowl Games as a week-long celebration of player skills featuring a new format that spotlights flag football. The multi-day AFC versus NFC competition will culminate in a flag game featuring Pro Bowl players at the Raiders’ spectacular stadium.
The Pro Bowl has been in place since 1951, albeit with tweaks in the event format along the way, having Los Angeles and Hawaii as long-term homes during this time, along with a variety of other venues.
Allegiant Stadium is due to host the event for the second consecutive year, but the NFL has long faced questions over declining interest in the game due to its competitiveness as players were perceived to be seeking to avoid injury risk in what was, essentially, an exhibition.
Building on feedback
When questioned about why it is the right time to shake up the format, NFL vice-president of events strategy, Matthew Shapiro, tells Fan XP: “As we plan our tentpole events, we are constantly innovating to bring our players and fans an unforgettable experience.
“The reimagined Pro Bowl Games format specifically is a direct result of invaluable feedback received from players, teams, and fans. This format allows the league’s top stars to show off their skills and celebrate their accomplishments in a fun, competitive, memorable way, surrounded by their families and fans, bringing everyone closer to the action than ever before.”
With ticket sales opening on December 1, ticketholders to the main event on February 5 will have access to three AFC versus NFC flag football games, along with Pro Bowl Skills events.
These will comprise Gridiron Gauntlet – a full-field relay race between six AFC players and six NFC players; Move the Chains – an offensive and defensive lineman strength and speed competition; and Best Catch Finals – where two fan-selected winners from Thursday’s Skills competition will compete for the title of ‘Best Catch’.
The NFL is also promising a “major musical performance” for Sunday’s offerings, along with postgame trophy and MVP celebrations. Ticketholders will also have access to on-site fan activations, including a celebrity DJ, live interviews with players, giveaways, player photo opportunities, and interactive games and contests. Fans will have the chance to win exclusive viewing experiences on the field and tickets to Super Bowl LVII via the NFL OnePass app.
As a growing focus for the organisation, flag football has been a vital piece of the NFL’s participation and development strategy, due to its accessible and inclusive qualities.
In addition to the AFC versus NFC flag game on February 5, the Pro Bowl Games will integrate the format throughout the week, including the Play Football Opening Night and NFL Flag Championships, which will feature the top girls’ and boys’ youth flag teams from across the world.
Most recently, the league celebrated a major milestone for the global growth and popularity of the football format, partnering with the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) this summer to bring flag to the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama as thoughts turn to building a presence in multi-sport events, including the Olympic Games.
“This season, we are making a concerted effort to balance implementing new elements with maintaining fan-favourite moments and events from years past,” Shapiro said.
“Fan voting, skills activities and the East-West Shrine Bowl will continue to be featured as part of the Pro Bowl Games, as will the NFL Flag Championships presented by Subway. The biggest change this season is the shift from a traditional tackle game for the Pro Bowl game to the AFC v NFC flag football format.
“Flag football has been a critical piece of the NFL’s participation and development strategy – both in the US and abroad… it allows us to highlight all levels and ages of football throughout the week of the Pro Bowl Games.”
Bringing in a legend
While Shapiro states that much of this year’s Pro Bowl Games will be novel, some fan favourite elements will remain.
These will include fan voting to help determine the NFC and AFC conference rosters; skills competitions for the participating players; and the East-West Shrine Bowl, an all-star showcase featuring NFL coaching staffs for senior collegiate football players from around the country.
“The Pro Bowl Games also provide our fans an opportunity to see a different side of 88 of the NFL’s best players,” Shapiro adds. “The ‘helmets off’ element that comes with this week allows our fans a unique opportunity to see players’ personalities in a more relaxed – yet still competitive – environment.”
To programme the week-long event, the NFL will work with partners, including ESPN, as well as some of the biggest names in football. Peyton Manning and Omaha Productions, the entertainment company founded by the Hall of Fame quarterback, will help shape the programming throughout the week.
The League believes Manning himself will provide a unique perspective as a 14-time Pro Bowl player who understands the importance of the event to players and fans.
Image credit: Jeffrey Hayes/CC BY 2.0
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