Pro Bowl about Economics; Miami vs Hawaii

Sunshine. Ocean breezes. Big-event buzz. And a who’s who of marquee NFL players gathered for the league’s all-star game.

No, you’re not in Hawaii anymore.

For the first time in 30 years, the Pro Bowl is not in Honolulu the week after the Super Bowl, given way to a grand experiment that could mark future of the all-star game.

The NFL has double-dipped, so to speak, hosting the Pro Bowl at the same venue as its league championship game for the first time since Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1967. It’s also the first time for a Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl.

Opinions run the gamut.

“It’s not the same atmosphere, the same level of relaxation,” says Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, chosen for his eighth Pro Bowl. “It’s an experiment, a work in progress. But part of the prestige and honor of going to the Pro Bowl is going to Hawaii. I can’t speak to reasons why some of the guys bailed out, but I’ve got to think that if I’m a first-time Pro Bowler, I don’t want to go to Miami to do it. Part of the allure is being in the islands.”

Think Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew feels cheated?

“This is my first one,” Jones-Drew said. “So if it was in Alaska, I’d have been there. It’s no big deal to me, but I know it’s different for some of the guys.”

Including 14 players from the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints who won’t play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night at Sun Life Stadium due to preparations for another commitment, 33 original picks for the AFC and NFC rosters were replaced by alternate selections. The majority of the players who have pulled out, such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and San Diego Chargers signal-caller Philip Rivers, cited injuries.

In previous years, the hook of Hawaii didn’t prevent some players from pulling out. In 2002, there were 22 replacement players.

Still, Hawaii is a legitimate perk.

“Personally, I like it better over there,” said Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler. “This is not truly a getaway. But it’s still special. I appreciate this too much to take it for granted. So if I could play, I was going to play. A lot of people would love to do what I do for a living. I will never take this for granted.”

The Pro Bowl will return to Hawaii for the next two years, but the league will make a determination within the next 45 days as to whether it will stage the event before or after the Super Bowl. Sites for Pro Bowls beginning with the 2013 game have not been determined; its possible the league will include Hawaii as part of a rotation with mainland sites.

Although the NFL is bullish on the notion of using the Pro Bowl as a lead-in to its Super Bowl build-up, it’s also possible that the all-star games could someday be staged in warm-weather sites that are not hosting Super Bowls in the same year.

“We’ve talked about it, and we’ll learn from this year’s event,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday, as he raked wood chips during a community service project that included several star players teaming with volunteers to build a playground at an academy in Broward County. “We’ll see what works, and what doesn’t. We’ll talk to the players and other participants and try to figure out what the best approach will be.”

Feedback from Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian is stinging. On his radio show this week, Polian said it is “stupid” that the league has required all-star players from the Super Bowl teams to arrive on Sunday for Pro Bowl festivities. The Colts have indicated that they will comply with the requirement, although as of Thursday afternoon it still wasn’t determined whether the seven Colts, including MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, would fly back to Indianapolis late Sunday, only to return Monday with the entire team.

Despite that issue, the league sees more potential benefits than pitfalls, including accessibility for fans on the mainland. Sunday’s game is sold out, with a crowd of more than 70,000 expected to mark the highest-attended Pro Bowl since a record 72,250 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1959.

“When it’s the start of Super Bowl week, it’s a great lead-in to the event,” Goodell said. “A lot of people are here who couldn’t be in Hawaii. But we’ve had a great experience in Hawaii, too.”

Mawae, president of the NFL Players Association, suspects that economics are also a driving force. About 20,000 more tickets have been sold and several sponsors have packages that include the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.

“We’ve been told that the Pro Bowl is a financially-draining enterprise, and that’s part of the reason they’re experimenting with it here,” Mawae said. “They’ve got a good number of tickets sold and they picked up corporate sponsorships, which is all about money. It just goes to show you it’s a mega-billion dollar business the NFL is running.”

Counters Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president of events: “Economics is not the reason we did it. We did this to bring it to more fans.”

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