Flag football will replace tackle game at Pro Bowl
By Emmanuel Morgan
The NFL announced earlier this week that it would turn the Pro Bowl, its annual all-star game, into a flag football game and drop the tackle game entirely. The shift comes as participation and interest in the exhibition has dwindled in recent years, despite the league’s efforts at modifying it.
At this season’s event, scheduled to take place in Las Vegas the week before the Super Bowl in February, selected players will continue to participate in skills competitions as they have done since 2017, before players from the NFC and the AFC will play each other in a flag football game.
The week of events will be broadcast by ESPN and ABC along with production from Omaha Studios, the media company founded by retired quarterback Peyton Manning.
“We’ve received invaluable feedback from players, teams and fans about reimagining the Pro Bowl, and as a result, we’re thrilled to use the Pro Bowl Games as a platform to spotlight flag football as an integral part of the sport’s future while also introducing fun, new forms of competition and entertainment that will bring our players, their families and fans closer than ever before,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president for events, said in a statement Monday.
The league has for years faced criticism over the Pro Bowl and dwindling interest in it. Television ratings for the event have steadily declined, with the 2021 version drawing a reported 6.7 million viewers, the lowest total since 2006.
Few star players who are selected for the game actually participate, citing the need to rest after the regular season, and the NFL has relocated the event several times in the hopes of drawing players to vacation destinations.
The game, which began in 1951, was originally hosted in Los Angeles, then moved to Hawaii from 1980 to 2009. The NFL has since cycled the game among different cities, including Las Vegas and Miami.
With few competitive stakes and only passing interest, the game has been marked by lackluster play and few compelling moments. To add excitement to the broadcasts, the NFL re-added the skills competition to the event in 2017 after having discontinued it before the 2008 Pro Bowl.
The new version of the showcase event marks a shift for the NFL, which has for years funded and promoted youth flag football leagues as a way to introduce children to mixed gender competition while mitigating the risks of head injury and accessibility concerns among parents.