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Pro Bowl Draft could save NFL's dying event

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It’s the Pro Bowl on tonight, and nobody seems to care. It is of course no secret that the annual All-Star event has become a bit of a joke to what is America’s most popular sporting league.

With the game being held in Hawaii, it doesn’t have the accessibility of the MLB All-Star game and it doesn’t have the extra fun and games of the NBA’s star-studded weekend.

Football fans in America like hard-hits and the Pro Bowl offers a watered-down flag-football exhibition, it’s a poor substitute.

Another problem for the NFL is the timing of the event. For player safety reasons it can’t be played midway through the season like the MLB and NBA do with their event and is instead held in this dead week between Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. The problem with that is that everyone is too excited about the upcoming big game to focus on the little exhibition out on the island.

In addition, the players involved in the Super Bowl, usually the best players in the league, don’t even play in the Pro Bowl. There is no Manning, no Wilson, and no Sherman. No fun.

The main problem with the game is of course that nobody watches. The 2013 edition brought in 12 Million viewers, not bad until you realise that the divisional play off games this season brought in an average of 34.3 Million.

The NFL has seen these problems and has reacted, sort of. They’ve shaken up the format for the 2014 game and it might just rejuvenate some interest in the event. Roger Goodell has recruited former pros and famous rivals, Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice to be ‘alumni team captains’ and the game will be un-conferenced for the first time in history. Instead a draft was held this week to decide the teams.

This is a masterstroke decision by the league. Football fans love drafts; thousands attend the annual NFL draft in New York, millions worldwide take part in fantasy football drafts and this year there is even a movie about the draft being released. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

The draft held on Wednesday night was everything you would expect, captains made their decisions (Andrew Luck was the first overall pick once again) and the players joked around with reporters backstage in the green room. Football was fun again.

The added twist of players from the same teams possibly lining up against each other could add an extra something to proceedings: Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts will be hunting down Luck, whilst Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears will be hoping to cover teammates Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

This year’s Pro Bowl will be fun. Of course the league will put in all the normal precautionary rules that accompany the game but if enough people tune in, it is possible that a new, fun NFL product is here to stay.

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AFC

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