It was announced yesterday, that the NFL is ending its 3 year experiment with the Pro-Bowl Draft format, and moving the competition away from Hawaii, and back to Florida. In a move that lines up very promising deals with Disney and ESPN, the NFL continues to “Re-imagine” the annual Pro-Bowl set up. The competition will now be returning to an NFC vs AFC format, as it was previously, up until 2013, when some sweeping changes were brought in to try and breathe some life into a competition which was failing to capture previous gravitas. We here at Realsport have been more than vocal in our previous pieces on the relevance of this competition in the modern football season. Commissioner Roger Goodell is clearly trying to breathe life into the old format in a desperate attempt to re-invigorate fan interest in the game. The problem is that fan interest comes after league interest. If the players, the teams, and the coaches don’t place value in the game, then why should they expect the fans to? A move to Florida gives a definite message that the NFL is invested in changing this format into something that the fans can engage with. Locking in with Disney and ESPN, and taking it to Florida shows that they are after the family ticket with this new approach. Taking it back to an AFC vs NFC format shows that they understand what it was that made the competition competitive in the first place. It takes a lot to admit that you failed, and I think that the switch back to a conference based format is Goodell putting his hands in the air on this one. You can guarantee that the uniforms will stay the same, with Nike putting some bespoke touches on an annual “ground-breaking” approach. The NFL could well try to get players to wear AFC or NFC helmets, with custom decals, but that would require agreements with the players and the helmet companies. I would expect that it’s more likely that the team helmets will stay, and the uniforms will carry little AFC and NFC badges on them instead. Expect a little throwback to the old colours thrown in there with all of the usual Nike “innovation”. Hopefully, this move back to the conference format will stoke a little fire in the players, and re-invigorate the game in some way, but I feel that the issues lay far deeper than this. With players from the Super Bowl teams automatically replaced, and players capable of removing themselves from the roster, you end up with a very long list of changes in the week before the game. Players not wanting to risk injury, or simply not invested in playing an extra game in the season, when their team has already packed up for the year. Even during the game, play is frequently soft and lacklustre, with heavy tackles and aggressive runs off the table, leading to a very long game of pass-ball. The NFL needs to make some major changes to the way in which the game is treated within the league itself, to try and recapture the glory days, when the competition meant something. They need to start this by taking a long hard look at the players, the teams, the coaches, and the league itself. Once they can stop treating the Pro Bowl with disdain, and start treating it as something worth competing for, then the fans will start treating it as something worth watching. Hopefully this move is a step in the right direction.