On Tuesday, the National Football League announced that the Pro Bowl will return to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2011, but will once again be played a week before the Super Bowl, rather than a week after.
The announcement comes a week after representatives from the NFL Players Association met with the league's Competition Committee in Indianapolis to discuss the format of the game. The NFL signed a two-year deal with the state of Hawaii recently that will keep the game on the island through 2012. Last season's Pro Bowl, of course, was held at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the first time since 1979 that the game was played on the mainland.
Influencing the decision to schedule the game a week before Super Bowl XLV was a significant jump in ratings from the 2009 game--played a week after Super Bowl XLIII--to the 2010 edition. Per NFL.com:
The 2010 Pro Bowl on ESPN was watched by an average of 12.3 million viewers, the most for a Pro Bowl since 2000 (13.2 million viewers) and a 40 percent increase from the 2009 game (8.8 million viewers). The 12.3 million viewers also marked the largest viewership for an All-Star game in any sport on cable television. The game at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida also attracted the largest Pro Bowl attendance (70,697) in 50 years.
The decision to return the game to Hawaii, while retaining its standing as a pre-Super Bowl event has one obvious downside: Pro Bowlers representing Super Bowl teams will not be able to make an appearance at the game, as they did--to the chagrin of some Saints and Colts brass--in 2010.
Whether fans care about such things is (very) debatable, and it's likely the game will remain a work-in-progress for the league beyond 2011. In any case, the NFL bigwigs are excited about the Pro Bowl, which certainly puts them in exclusive company.
"Playing the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl generated more excitement and interest in the event and also kicked off Super Bowl week in an innovative new way," said Frank Supovitz, the NFL's senior vice president of events. "We are pleased to return to the state of Hawaii, which has embraced the Pro Bowl for 30 years."