NEW YORK, N.Y. - Have NFL fans seen the last of the Pro Bowl?
The game could be suspended next year, two people familiar with discussions said Thursday.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, among others, expressed concerns about the quality of play after January's game, and the league has been holding talks with the players' union about the future of the all-star game. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were not being publicized.
Responding to an ESPN report that Goodell is "strongly considering" suspending the game in 2013, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "No determination has been made yet."
Goodell said before the Super Bowl in February he was unhappy with what he saw in the AFC's 59-41 win in the Pro Bowl at Honolulu — a game that often resembled touch football. Many players chosen for the game bow out, and if the Pro Bowl is held before the Super Bowl, as it was during the past three years, players from the conference champions don't participate.
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York questioned his followers on Twitter about their feeling toward the Pro Bowl, then concluded later that there "Doesn't seem to be much love" in the responses.
The game still draws solid TV ratings, but isn't considered a money maker. Although viewership dropped 8.1 per cent in January, the Pro Bowl still was the highest-rated sports program of the weekend.
The big factor is cost, particularly when played in Hawaii. And with so many defections— there were 20 replacements for non-participating players in 2012, including Pro Bowlers from the Giants and Patriots who were occupied with the Super Bowl — it raises the question of whether the game is still special.
Newly elected NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth tweeted Thursday: "The Pro Bowl is an important tradition we are in talks with the league to improve and preserve the game for our players and fans."
Hawaii began hosting the game in 1980 and it was held there annually until 2010, when it moved to Miami and was played the week before the Super Bowl. Before moving it, the NFL said there was a need for a more modern stadium in Hawaii, but the Pro Bowl returned there in 2011.
"We understand that the suspension of the Pro Bowl is a possibility," Mike McCartney, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement. "However, we are still in discussions with the NFL about the possibility of holding the event here in the Hawaiian Islands. We feel the Pro Bowl and Hawaii are a perfect fit and believe that holding the Pro Bowl in the Hawaiian Islands would be a good thing for our visitor industry and the state."
The tourism authority, which generates revenue from a tax on hotel rates, has been paying the NFL $4 million to bring the game to the islands. The authority touts the $25 million Pro Bowl visitors spend during their stay. It also values the advertising it gets when the nation sees sun-soaked players running across the field in the middle of winter.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie last year criticized the payments, questioning why Hawaii should "give 4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry" when the state was struggling to fund education. He did an about-face several months later, saying he wanted Hawaii to host the game and "we're going to do everything we can to make sure that comes about in a fashion that will make everybody very, very happy."
NFL counsel Jeff Pash said last week there have been extensive talks with players about the Pro Bowl.
"When should it be played? Where? And certainly the quality of the game," he said. "We understand what contributes to the low quality of the game. It does not mean very much either financially or competitively. Players are reluctant to participate in a way that they could be injured. It's not going to ever look like a playoff game, but it needs to improve so fans don't say, 'I feel bad watching it.'"