The Pro Bowl you watched in February might be the final one ever held.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the NFL is currently discussing ways to improve Pro Bowl week, including the possibility of eliminating the game itself.
The NFL is discussing the Pro Bowl week and ways to improve it — including possibly eliminating the traditional game and using that Sunday to showcase the players in it. Essentially, what are the alternatives?
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 24, 2022
ESPN reported that the league has spoken to players and team executives, and they are discussing possible alternatives to Pro Bowl week.
The Pro Bowl is the equivalent to the midseason All-Star games held by the NBA and MLB, though the Pro Bowl is held the week before the Super Bowl in early February. It hasn't been the most exciting game in recent years, with star players often backing out because they don't want to get injured. Other players aren't available because they're playing in the Super Bowl, which is one of the hazards of holding your All-Star game before the biggest and most important game of the season.
Despite the perceived low quality of the game, it still does fine in the ratings. The Pro Bowl that aired in February drew 6.69 million viewers, which isn't a bad number given the many things people could be watching instead. However, that figure is the lowest since 2006 and represents a 17% drop from 2019 viewership numbers. The MLB and NBA All-Star games have also experienced a continuing decline in viewership over the past several years.
What could replace the Pro Bowl?
If the Pro Bowl is eliminated, Rapoport reported that the NFL is considering using that Sunday to "showcase the players in" the Pro Bowl. Because the Pro Bowl is supposed to be a showcase of the players who made the AFC and NFC teams, it's not entirely clear what that showcase would look like.
One alternative could replace the tackle football game with a flag football game, which would likely be more appealing to injury-concerned players. If the viewing audience isn't interested by a slower-than-normal tackle football game, how would a flag football game improve on that?
It's possible that the NFL could look to the 2021 Pro Bowl, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to find new ideas. The league replaced the game with pandemic-friendly events, none of which included players actually playing each other. There was an esports competition, a special with interviews and other segments honoring the Pro Bowl players, and a Verzuz highlight battle.
Several of those events were very popular, though with many people still staying indoors at that time, it could be hard to predict their success now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted.