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Travelling All-Stars

The NFL (National Football League) could be set to move its all-star Pro Bowl game outside of the United States. Elisha Chauhan investigates the feasibility and rationale of touted host Brazil.

Established three quarters of a century ago to celebrate the league’s greatest players, the all-star Pro Bowl has been tweaked over the years and is currently an exhibition match-up between teams picked by NFL Hall of Famers. 

However, the modern-day Pro Bowl has become known for its lack of competitiveness – most significantly by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who overhauled the event’s format alongside the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) last year.

Many believe the underlining problem of the Pro Bowl lies within its scheduling just ahead of the Super Bowl, meaning top players are unlikely to play for fear of injury. Over a third of players who were selected but chose not participate in this January’s Pro Bowl in Hawaiian capital Honolulu was due to participation in the Super Bowl.

A potential new home for the Pro Bowl, outside the United States, is being looked at as a means of injecting fresh interest into the event. Though it will return to Honolulu next year, a new destination is being evaluated from 2017, with 2014 FIFA World Cup host Brazil confirmed as a potential option by NFL vice-president of communications Brian McCarthy.

For 2017 and beyond, we are studying the future of the Pro Bowl

“We are looking forward to returning to Hawaii for next year’s game, but we have not made any decisions on future sites for the Pro Bowl beyond the game slated for 2016,” McCarthy told SportBusiness International. “For 2017 and beyond, we are studying the future of the Pro Bowl. Brazil – an area with a growing number of NFL fans – as a possible host is one of the ideas that is worth additional analysis.”

Whilst football is the undoubted king of sports in Brazil, the NFL says its American cousin is gaining popularity with increased TV coverage of regular-season NFL games and the Super Bowl; pay-TV rights-holder ESPN Brazil achieved a 51-per-cent audience increase for this year’s championship game compared with 2014.

Participation is also on the up, with the Brazilian national American football team taking part in the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) World Championship in Canton, Ohio, for the first time this year. National governing body CBFA (Brazilian American Football Confederation) works with around 50 amateur teams, according to director of international affairs Daniel Stoler Condessa, and says he supports bringing any high level American football game to the country.

“There is no doubt that any NFL game being held in Brazil would be sold out. This is something that the Brazilian audience really wants to happen,” Condessa told SportBusiness International.

Condessa adds that while the CBFA hasn’t received any official contact from the NFL regarding hosting the Pro Bowl, he understands that a few private Brazilian event management companies have approached the NFL with proposals.

“I lived in New York for three years [working with the NFL’s legal department], and I never saw a person who cared about the Pro Bowl at all. So I believe that bringing the event to Brazil will give the NFL new viewers who aren’t fed up with the Pro Bowl being not that competitive,” he says.

“People in the United States watch American football so much that watching the Pro Bowl is like watching the players on vacation.”

Enjoy the Show

Brazil has a number of stadia equipped to host the Pro Bowl, including the 12 venues used at last year’s World Cup – seven of which were new builds and five of which were renovated. The iconic Maracanã stadium in Rio would be most suited for the world’s best American football players, says Condessa.

“The Maracanã is as iconic as Wembley Stadium, and they are similar in that their name alone attracts people to attending events due to their atmosphere. You probably don’t even have to understand American football to enjoy the show there,” he adds.

The potential commercial support the NFL could get from hosting the Pro Bowl in Brazil could also be attractive.

“At a time when Brazil is hosting events like the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, every company wants more and more opportunities to attach their brands to major sport,” says Condessa. “The Pro Bowl will be another big showcase for any sponsor to be affiliated with, especially now that private companies are investing in sport here.”

The NFL, however, remains tight-lipped about which regions it is looking at in addition to Brazil as a potential Pro Bowl host. George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs, does say however that his organisation and the NFL itself have long fought for the survival and revival of the Pro Bowl and are therefore happy to explore all options that would benefit it.

“I don’t think it necessarily needs to change locations, but as we look as a business to expand, it’s interesting to consider other options,” Atallah told SportBusiness International.

“The first I heard of Brazil being a potential host of the Pro Bowl was only a few weeks ago [early April], so there has not been any business planning into that…but from hosting the FIFA World Cup, we know Brazil is a big country with a lot of potential venues to host the game.

“Like anything else, if you don’t try something you will never know what the outcome will be. As long as there’s a game that celebrates the accomplishments of the players and it’s done in agreement with the players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement, we don’t mind where the Pro Bowl is held.”

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