NFL players fortunate enough to make this year’s Pro Bowl had a new destination. According to the Associated Press, the NFL signed a two-year contract over the off-season with Orlando’s Camping World Stadium to host the Pro Bowl. The league also has an option to host the game a third year.
The move was made after the contract with Aloha Stadium expired. According to SB Nation, the league was looking to reinvigorate the game with last year’s contest receiving just a 5.6 television rating. Many players were starting to decline the invitation to play.
According to CBS Sports, the NFL shopped the contract to Honolulu along with three additional cities. Houston, Orlando and Sydney, Australia were all in the mix to host the game. Camping World Stadium won the bid moving the game to Orlando for the foreseeable future.
A big part of the move to Orlando was the league’s connection to ESPN. The sports network typically carries the Pro Bowl and is owned by Disney. The league alluded to this relationship in the press release announcing the move.
“Collaborating with Disney and ESPN brings us closer to the best in youth and family-focused entertainment. We look forward to working with the city of Orlando and Florida Citrus Sports to create a week-long celebration for football and our fans,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement.
The NFL has said the move had little to do with the viability of Hawaii hosting the event. Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president of events, spoke with Hawaii’s KHON about the decision.
“Our decision to move the Pro Bowl to a different location was not related to funding, Aloha Stadium or Hawaii’s ability to host the game. We value our partnership and look forward to continuing our community grants to nonprofits in Hawaii for the next three years and working with the State and the [Hawaii Tourism Authority] on future opportunities,” O’Reilly told KHON.
It seems there were a number of contributing factors, but the league’s connection with Disney through ESPN played a big role in the decision. The practices were held all week at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Fans were able to attend practices and the location was more accessible to people living in the lower 48 states.
The decision does leave a void in Hawaii. It was played there in 31 of the last 32 seasons. Miami (2009) and Los Angeles (1971) were the only other places to host the Pro Bowl prior to Orlando.