The National Football League is superior to its brethren leagues in a lot of ways, but its All-Star Game is not one of those ways.
The NBA's All-Star Game turns into a fantastic dunk and score exhibition. The NHL's All-Star Game is a fast-paced shoot and block spectacle. Major League Baseball, despite the machinations of Bud Selig, interleague play, and home-field advantage at stake, still compels with its tradition and star power. All three games are played fast, with skill, and a lot of highlight reel potential.
The Pro Bowl is not any of those things. The Pro Bowl is a bunch of men, a fair portion of whom have not played football in a few weeks, dressed in pads going half-speed, at best. The defense is non-existent and the game is a joke. Every year, people clown on the Pro Bowl and make jokes, but they still tune in and watch the game in record numbers. The NFL doesn't change the format, despite cries to do so, because people tune in and the NFL, with those ratings in hand, can demand millions from advertisers and networks.
Before anyone laughs or dismisses the validity of any alternate ideas, ratings and eyeballs will still be there. We're talking the NFL here. This is the league that gets millions upon millions of people to watch men in suits talk about or read psuedo-experts talk about college kids. This is the league where millions of people play a game about fake football and spend time studying fake draft strategies about fake scoring rules. This is the league that isn't afraid to compete against prime-time network TV with games like New York versus Tennessee.
If you slap "NFL" on it, people will watch or read, even if they would claim otherwise. If people watch NBA Skills Competition, they'll tune in for the NFL's version and NFL Flag Football. They already air Celebrity Flag Football during Super Bowl week, so why not?
Whether its the old-school Quarterbacks Club Challenge, the NFL Combine, or Madden NFL video games, there are lots of mini-game like challenges the NFL can draw upon for inspiration. Here is a short, and incomplete, list of skills competitions (that could be sponsored!!!) that could keep the crowd entertained.
- The State Farm Double-Check Quarterback Challenge: Like those old NFL Quarterbacks Club Challenge competitions of the early 1990s, quarterbacks would take target practice in the pocket and on the move at moving targets of various lengths. Similar to the NBA's point guard skills competition, you could have a quarterback running an obstacle course, to show off athleticism, as they complete passes.
-The Nike Fastest Man 40-Yard Dash: Speed enthralls everyone and every team has someone who claims to be the fastest man in the league. Each team sends a representative and they compete in four heats of eight. Eventually, you get the fastest eight and let them go. Aside from cash prize, the winner gets a '100' speed rating in the next Madden game.
- The Muscle Milk Strongest Man Bench Press & Squat Showdown: Big men lifting superhuman level of weights and trash-talking opponents. What more could you ask for?
- McDonald's"H-O-R-S-E" for NFL Kickers and Punters: As opposed to a straight kicking competition, we open up the skill for kickers and punters by letting them call their kicks. Just imagine it, Sebastian Janikowski calling bank-shot on the left goal post of a 52-yard field goal while Shane Lechler decides he's going to drop a punt at the 2 with no roll.
- The Visa 7-on-7 Flag Football Tournament: Fans vote on four or eight team captains and they get a schoolyard pick of their teams from a pool of players. The NHL has used a similar schoolyard pick format in their All-Star game and it adds a lot of opportunity for showmanship and trash-talking. NFL players love to show off their athleticism, so it could be fun to see Tom Brady throwing to Jason Pierre-Paul as he flips over Reggie Wayne.
Why participate in this, you ask? Well, there's the obvious free trip to Hawaii, for starters. Secondly, these events would be sans helmet and with microphones. There is an obvious chance to brand and market yourself, as a player, for endorsement opportunities. Lastly, the NFL would still put up cash, as they do for the Pro Bowl. If you had to sweeten the pot then you put up cash for winners and their chosen charities or foundations. It's a way for the entire NFL to look great and give back, and that is great PR.
The Pro Bowl, in its current state, is a farce. It's not what fans love about football and it serves no point, other than to make the NFL money. The NFL could still make money, allow players the opportunity to catch the eye of an advertiser or two, and have a nice bit of PR by changing a meaningless game into a skills competition and flag football tournament that gives money to charity. It's a win-win-win situation that the NFL and the NFLPA should consider for 2014, especially as millions of people prepare their latest edition of Pro Bowl jokes for Sunday's game.