Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightWhen National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell announced last week that the league in the U.S. will keep its annual post-season all-star game in Honolulu next year, many tourism officials here likely breathed a sigh of relief.

Held every year in Hawaii for all but one of the past 33 years (the exception being 2010, when the game was played in Miami, which was also the site of that year's Super Bowl), the NFL Pro Bowl is Hawaii’s largest sporting event.
In 2012, the event — played in the off-week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl — attracted more than 48,000 total spectators and 15,000 visitors. Those fans spent $25.3 million during their stays, and 46% of them went on to visit a Neighbor Island during their trip, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) statistics.

But those game-related arrivals and spending figures make up only a tiny percentage of the record-breaking 7.9 million visitors who spent more than $14.7 billion across the Islands in 2012. As it turns out, the importance of the Pro Bowl goes beyond just game day. ShaneNelson 

“The Pro Bowl in Hawaii is more than just a game,” Mike McCartney, HTA president and CEO, said this month. “It generates worldwide media exposure for the Hawaiian Islands.”

Last year’s Pro Bowl was seen by 12.5 million North American viewers, and it was in turn worth about $271.6 million in publicity, according to the HTA. Many of those viewers were also watching all the inviting, sunny Hawaii beach footage during the harsh February winter weather on swaths of the mainland, which has always been seen as an effective way to spur bookings.

Since the 2010 Pro Bowl, however, the one year in the past three-plus decades it was held on the mainland, Hawaii’s role as annual host for the event has been somewhat tenuous.

Hawaii paid the NFL a total of $8 million to host both the 2011 and 2012 all-star games, and it learned last spring that it would be the site of the 2013 Pro Bowl after weeks of speculation that the game might not be played at all; chatter about doing away with the Pro Bowl also dogged the 2013 game.

Improving the Pro Bowl’s appeal has been a focus for Goodell and the league, which certainly prompted the Miami tryout, and the commissioner seems keen on continued experimentation in the future.

“If some of these changes are effective, positive and lead to a better event, we will find a way to make this game better and hopefully more popular with our fans,” Goodell said in a March 20 press conference. “Ultimately, that’s what we are looking for.”

As for the actual location of the NFL Pro Bowl in years to come, it seems Hawaii will just have to wait and see, again. Goodell said the league would be "open minded" about the Pro Bowl's future location.

“Our agreement with Hawaii is just for the coming year," he said, "but I would expect that we will continue to be in Hawaii on some kind of rotational basis.” 

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