How the NFL Pro Bowl Works

The Pro Bowl returns to Hawaii in 2011.
Fans fill Aloha Stadium during the second quarter of the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

The anticipation of football season is electric. Its preamble happens in waves. First comes the NFL Draft -- a well-publicized three-day celebration of "What If," as the leagues' newest members give fans reason to dream of a successful season in the fall. Then there's training camp, offering the first glimpse of the new-look teams. The preseason begins, and this very closely resembles actual football except for the second- and third-stringers that find their way into the lineups. Finally, the fantasy football drafts happen and office betting pools begin to form. No other sport builds up to the season the way football does.

Of the four major American professional sports organizations, the National Football League in the past two decades has risen above Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League in the two areas that matter the most -- revenues and the all-important game attendance.


On average, each NFL game during the 2009 season drew 67,509 fans [source: Harris]. Compare that to baseball, which attracted an average of 30,338 fans per game during the same season, and it's easy to see why the National Pastime seems to be shifting from the diamond to the gridiron [source: Harris]. That's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison considering the disparity in the lengths of each sport's seasons. Because MLB plays so many more games, even with half-empty stadiums the sport plays to more than 70 million spectators in a given year. The NFL can't come close to matching that, with a total of just over 17 million taking in games in 2009. Despite such a large gap in ticket sales, the NFL still earned a cool billion dollars more than MLB in 2009 [source: Trowbridge].

The NFL stands head and shoulders above other professional sports, but it has one weakness when compared to its counterparts -- the Pro Bowl. Of all the major all-star games, the Pro Bowl is the only one that actually draws a smaller audience than regular-season games [source: Fletcher].

In this article, we'll discuss how the Pro Bowl works, who gets to play and what factors contribute to this being such an anticlimactic end to sports' most intense season.