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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New NFL format not fan friendly

By Ferd Lewis

Peyton Manning was at the 45-yard line, then the 35 ...

And, then, he stopped to shake some more hands.

If you went to the 2010 Pro Bowl in South Florida to see the Colts' record-setting quarterback in action, your glimpses of him were pretty much limited to a guy in a red windbreaker doing little more than a walk and wave before the crowd and shaking hands with players.

But if the Colts reach the 2011 Super Bowl, that might be a whole lot more than the Aloha Stadium fans see of him in person.

The NFL announced yesterday that the Pro Bowl's return to its longest-running home will be in the same pre-Super Bowl format that debuted last month in South Florida, which hosted both games a week apart.

That's a potential mixed blessing here: promising for TV ratings and the visibility for tourism but maybe not so hot for fans who come to see the marquee players.

For example, the 14 players from the Super Bowl participants, Indianapolis and New Orleans, arrived in South Florida the day of the Pro Bowl and did little more than smile to the crowd.

If the fans were disappointed, it was nothing compared to Colts president Bill Polian, who said, "It's stupid. It's a disruption," having them there at all, a day before the rest of their teammates arrived.

And those were comparatively short hops to South Florida compared to what it could be in 2011. Think they would be thrilled about having key players fly to Honolulu and back to Dallas, site of the 2011 Super Bowl? Or from points farther East?

No, of course not, which is why you shouldn't bet on the Super Bowl players putting in an appearance here except digitally via Jumbotron.

For its 30-year run in Hawai'i the Pro Bowl has served three masters well: the tourism industry that uses the event to advertise the state to less balmy climates, the fans who get to see their favorite stars up close and the NFL that needs the lure of paradise to keep the stars turning out. And, just 63.5 percent of the original selectees did this year.

With the change here for 2011 and, possibly, 2012, it will be interesting to see how the new package sells over time. The Hawai'i Tourism Authority and state that ante up upwards of $4 million per game to the NFL are confident of higher viewership and they could be right.

Meanwhile, you wonder how the concept will play out with the fans in the stands in the long run, both those locally and visitors from the Mainland the game is geared toward attracting.

That might be the most important score to watch over time.