By: Casey Sudzina, @CaseySudzina
I don’t know about everyone else, but personally, my favorite part of being a fan of anything is to see people out of their element. Whether that is seeing my favorite athlete spending time with their family or my favorite celebrity doing an interview about why they love what they do, it appeals to me. It is cool to feel as if you are on the same level as your favorite athletes, as it allows for a more personal connection.
Football, baseball, basketball, and hockey hold an all-star competition for its athletes. Three of the big four sports include other special events on top of the actual game itself; the NFL is the only one of the big four sports to not include a special event aside from the actual Pro Bowl itself. The MLB includes the Home Run Derby during their all-star weekend, the NBA includes the Celebrity All-Star game and the Slam Dunk Competition during all-star weekend, and the NHL includes their skill competition during their all-star weekend. These additional events during the all-star weekends allow for fans to see their favorite athletes in a goofy manner, showing their skills in a more relaxed setting. The athletes cannot always perform these skills during heavy competition in the regular season, so this provides a more light-hearted opportunity for them to do so. Up until this year, the NFL has not really provided an opportunity like this, until now of course. What is the opportunity you may ask? DODGEBALL.
It is extremely smart for the NFL to include this because their ratings are dropping dangerously. Though they still have higher ratings than the other three major US sports leagues, they are low when you compare the popularity of the NFL over the other three sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl weekend should be receiving much higher ratings when compared to the other three. 2017 is a big year, especially considering how high the TV ratings were for the NBA Finals and the World Series. As you can see, when comparing the TV ratings of the MLB and the NBA that were included in the highest rated in history compared to Super Bowl 50 ratings, the Pro Bowl should be much higher. The correlation gap should be more similar than it is, which is why NFL executives may be sweating just a bit.
NFL All-Star Game: 7.7 (2013), 6.7 (2014), 5.6 (2015), 5.0 (2016)
MLB All-Star Game: 7.8 (2015), 5.4 (2016)
NBA All-Star Game: 5.9 (2015), 4.3 (2016)
NHL All-Star Game: .9 (2016)
Superbowl 50 (2016): 46.6 (which is roughly 167,000,000 viewers to put a number on it)
Really, the idea as a whole makes me laugh because of the movie. I am sure some of the athletes got a good laugh out of it as well. Dodgeball is a genius idea because it is relatively safe, so players may be more apt to participate. Usually, physical contact is the main concern for athletes because they do not want to hurt themselves. There will also be other events in addition to the Pro Bowl, such as races, a best hands competition, and a precision passing competition with the best quarterbacks and receivers. To make things more interesting, some of the DBs in the league have requested that they should be allowed to join in on the best hands competition, showing their hands in some of their interception recaps.
A second aspect of the NFL Pro Bowl compared to the other big three sports’ all-star weekends is the NFL does their weekend after the season is over. All of the other sports place their all-star weekend in the middle of the season, giving their athletes a few days off in order to hold the event. This has made the participation level much higher for athletes. Many NFL players tend to opt out of the Pro-Bowl because either they have the Super Bowl coming up or their season is over and they simply do not want to have to deal with an injury to set back their rebuilding in the offseason. An even more likely reason for non-participation, however, is the athletes are simply tired and ready for the season to be over. Once the season is concluded, they do not want to take part in an event that holds no meaning to the regular season when they could be resting.
While it makes sense to keep the NFL season short since it is such a physically demanding sport, it may not be a terrible idea to add in another bye week in order to put the Pro Bowl mid season on the weekend. Unfortunately, money makes a big difference in this decision, as it does in most cases. It will be interesting to see if including dodgeball in the Pro Bowl will help raise the ratings and spark more interest. If so, we may see it stick, or even more, we may see the Pro Bowl move to mid-season. It will be interesting to see where these adjustments go and how they will affect NFL players, fans, and executives alike.