Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks at the 2019 NFL Pro Bowl
Mark Brown | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
Almost every year since 2008, talks surrounding the National Football League’s Pro Bowl location arises, and this year is no different.
Once again, the NFL will head into this spring with a decision to make on the Pro Bowl’s location, as its year-to-year option is set to expire in Orlando. And now, the idea of moving the event to Las Vegas or Los Angeles is being considered, according to league officials.
“It’s been a great four years,” Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president of NFL events and club business development, told CNBC. “From our perspective, it’s looking at what are the other options.”
It’s not the first time the league has been rumored to move the event. Last year, the Orlando Sentinel mentioned the game was on the verge of relocating, but league officials decided to renew the competition in the city for another year.
With the Las Vegas Raiders officially relocating to their new home, the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium, which is expected to be ready for the 2020 season, moving the Pro Bowl to Las Vegas, at least for one year, appears to be gaining momentum.
The NFL moved the Pro Bowl from Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, which hosted the game since 1980, after the 2013 season. It made a quick stop in Arizona in 2015, but returned to Hawaii the following season before settling in Orlando in 2017.
The league does like Orlando for the Pro Bowl, one reason being the many options for family activities. Players usually bring their family and friends to the Pro Bowl and the league will host private events like Thursday night, when it rented a section of Universal Studios for players and their guests.
But the Pro Bowl is still dealing with competitive issues, as it still has a reputation of appearing more like tag football than what consumers are usually accustomed to during the NFL year. O’Reilly said part of the problem is some fans view the NFL’s All-Star contest as a real game, while the league wants the Pro Bowl to be considered as more of a week-long fan experience with access to top stars.
“It’s not an AFC or NFC championship game or a Super Bowl,” O’Reilly said. “Pro Bowl is different; it’s about access, it’s about fun and a lot of different things that you experience as a fan going to that game that you’re not experiencing at a regular-season game.”
Though the competitiveness may be lacking, TV ratings for the game are still sharp as last year it attracted 8.23 million viewers. While that number doesn’t compare to the 13.4 million viewers the game saw in 2011, the NFL isn’t suffering when compared to other All-Star outings like the National Basketball Association, which saw an 11% decline in its All-Star game in 2019.
In efforts to make the Pro Bowl more of celebration, the NFL added a pregame concert, which this year will feature pop star Flo Rida and a post-game fireworks display. And this year, another rule change will be added, allowing the team who scores a touchdown to continue its offense.
If the team who scores decides to retain the ball, they’ll need to convert a 4th and 15 from their own 25-yard line to earn a new set of downs. If it fails, the opposing team will take over from that same spot with excellent field position to score themselves. The league hopes the changes will allow the game to stand out more as its own event instead of comparisons to other ultra-competitive NFL contests.
“I think on Sunday, you’re going to see some real fireworks,” O’Reilly said. “These coaches are not going to want to give up the ball.”
Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, believes the NFL could enhance the Pro Bowl even more by observing changes in the National Hockey League’s revamped All-Star format, which features a tournament and a skills competition.
“The NHL has a three-day event culminating with a skills competition, and then the game itself is four-on-four rather than five-on-five,” he told CNBC via text. “It’s working for the NHL; the NFL should consider incorporating some of these elements.”
And if the NFL does move the Pro Bowl to Las Vegas, it may be able to get a feel for what the event will attract based on this year’s NFL Draft, which is in Las Vegas, too. The league went all out for this year’s draft, adding a red-carpet stage on the Fountains of Bellagio at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Players will be transported by boat to appear on the red carpet before being transported to the main stage located near Caesars Palace.
“Sitting with the Las Vegas convention folks, they were pitching the idea of that for the draft with our team as well as the Raiders,” O’Reilly said. “I guess it was if you’re going to bring the draft to Las Vegas, let’s take advantage of the iconic visuals and locations along the strip.”
Again, the NFL has until this spring to decide on next year’s location, and O’Reilly said there have been discussions about returning to a rotation system that the NFL did when the game converted to an AFC vs. NFC format in 1971 before settling in Hawaii in 1980.
Orlando could still be in contention for the event, and the hope is to make the location permanent. But the fact the NFL is exploring its options says that though they like the current situation, it wants to see more, and Las Vegas might be able to deliver.
Seattle Mariners create new $5 value plan
Looking to keep fans engaged during a tough rebuild, the Seattle Mariners announced a $5 value plan for 10 games in the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
The plan includes seats in the centerfield bleachers, $5 selected concession items, and merchandise at the team store for games during March, April, and May against the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, the Houston Astros, and Oakland Athletics.
Frances Traisman, the Mariners vice president of ticket sales, said the plan is being used to offer opportunities for consumers to have an “affordable outing” at T-Mobile Park. The Mariners are aware of their struggles over the years.
After finishing in the top 15 in MLB attendance for the 2018 season, averaging 28,388 fans, the team dropped to 20th last season, averaging 22,122 fans in 81 games. The team’s regular-season struggles have been a big part of their attendance drop.
The Mainers haven’t made the postseason since 2001 when they fell to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and since then have only averaged 77 wins per season. In addition, it remains the only team in the MLB not to make a World Series appearance.
The team also remained quiet during free agency, electing not to spend like the Yankees, who signed top pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year deal valued at $324 million. The Mainers top free agent signing so far this offseason is starting pitcher Kendall Graveman for a one-year, $2 million deal.
According to Spotrac.com, a website that tracks players’ contracts and team payrolls, the Mariners will enter the 2020 season with an $87 million payroll – $57 million more than what Cole will earn next season – a decrease from its $144 million payroll in 2019. And with a rebuild in motion, finding ways to keep fans in the seats will be the challenge this season, which the team hopes the $5 value packages will assist.
“We have a lot of talented young players on the roster this season,” Traisman told CNBC via email, “and the $5 value game is a way for fans to come out to T-Mobile Park early in the season to see the young players they’ve been hearing about and do it at an affordable price point.”