Pro Bowl moves up week Hawaii tourism hits 'trifecta'
For Honolulu's Wilma Sur and a handful of her friends, the Pro Bowl in Hawai'i had become such a tradition that they decided to hold a tailgate at her Waikīkī home when the NFL all-star game was being played in South Florida Jan. 31.
"We had to do something because we felt empty," said Sur, who had attended the past 12 to 15 Pro Bowls at Aloha Stadium.
The group can make plans to tailgate at Aloha Stadium now that the NFL announced yesterday that the 2011 game will be played Jan. 30 — again the week before the Super Bowl.
The Pro Bowl was played in Hawai'i from 1980 to 2009 before the NFL experimented by moving the game to the same site as the Super Bowl and playing it the week before. The 2010 Pro Bowl was held in Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.
The NFL announced in a release that a decision to again play the game the week before the Super Bowl follows a significant increase in viewership for the 2010 game, the first one to precede the Super Bowl.
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), according to the NFL. The 12.3 million viewers also marked the largest viewership for an all-star game in any sport on cable television. It also attracted the largest Pro Bowl attendance (70,697) in 50 years.
"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, said in press statement. "We are pleased to return to the State of Hawai'i, which has embraced the Pro Bowl for 30 years."
Those who embraced the game included Sur's group. They just don't like the idea of the Super Bowl players being unavailable for the game.
"It's stupid because the whole reason to go to the Pro Bowl was to see all of the stars and a lot of the big guys will be playing in the Super Bowl," she said. "That's part of the attraction and just to see them and know that they're here and (their) families are here enjoying themselves."
Kāne'ohe's Bill Wiltshire, who had attended the past 10 Pro Bowls in Hawai'i, also doesn't like the format.
"They're going to do that again?" Wiltshire said. "I thought they'd go back to a week after. So out here, we won't see any of the guys in the Super Bowl? That's kind of anticlimactic ... I don't understand the thinking. I guess they want to end it at the Super Bowl and move on.
"(That's) not quite fair for the (Hawai'i) fans."
In this past Pro Bowl, about 40 percent of those originally selected didn't play in Miami, including seven players each from the Super Bowl participants — the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.
Regardless, the Pro Bowl brings in much-needed dollars to Hawai'i's economy.
Although Hawai'i will pay the NFL $4 million per game in 2011 and 2012, the Pro Bowl accounted for $28.6 million in visitor spending, generated $2.9 million in state taxes and attracted 18,000 visitors to Hawai'i for the game, according to the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.
"We know how much the Pro Bowl means to our residents, the players and to the thousands of fans from the Mainland who enjoy visiting our state for the game," Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the HTA, said in a statement. "The Pro Bowl is a great investment for our state with both economic and community benefits."
Will yesterday's announcement that the game will be played a week before the Super Bowl prevent fans from returning?
"It won't stop us from going," Wiltshire said.
"Oh sure, we would go just because we like the tradition," Sur said.
Notes: The game will be televised live on FOX at 2 p.m. Hawai'i time. FOX will televise Super Bowl XLV a week later on Feb. 6 from Cowboys Stadium in North Texas. ... The Pro Bowl's return is part of a two-year agreement between the NFL and the state of Hawai'i to play the 2011 and 2012 games here.