The Pro Bowl is boring and meaningless and an actual game of football in name only. But it would be silly, naïve and pointless to expect the NFL to do anything other than continue playing it.
Think about it as you absorb the news that the league has not scrapped the game -- as many thought/hoped/guessed after the disastrous 2016 event -- but "re-imagined" it as part of a weeklong celebration in Orlando, Florida. These days, anything the NFL touches turns to gold (or, better, green), and the league had cities across the world -- including Sydney, Australia -- crawling on top of one another to host one of its tent-pole events.
Orlando is highly motivated to employ the newly renovated Citrus Bowl, now known as Camping World Stadium after a $200 million overhaul, and offered a lucrative connection with ESPN's Wide World of Sports. And according to the Orlando Sentinel, the Orange County Tourist Development Council approved $3 million in hotel taxes to help lure the event that will culminate with the game on Jan. 29, 2017.
Say what you want about the quality of the game, but there is no incentive to abandon it. Not only are cities lining up for a chance to host the Pro Bowl, but it has a television partner in ESPN that wants to broadcast it to a number of people who will watch it.
Although ratings were down compared to 2015, nearly eight million people watched the 2016 Pro Bowl on ESPN. Its U.S. household rating was 4.5, making it the highest-rated show on cable that night.
The game itself isn't likely to become more interesting, even after the NFL dumped the contrived draft process to return to the traditional AFC-NFC matchup. NFL senior vice president of events Peter O'Reilly promised more details in the coming weeks and months, but it's hard to imagine players suddenly agreeing to hit harder, run faster or even accept their invitations more frequently to a game that will always pose more risk to them than reward.
The NFL invited a record 133 players to the 2016 Pro Bowl after an unprecedented number turned down the opportunity. Is there any reason to think they'll be more interested in Orlando than Honolulu? Retired defensive back Charles Woodson, appearing at Wednesday's news conference, suggested that players would be motivated by a free trip to Disney World for their families. We'll give Charles an "A" for effort on that one.
So instead of focusing on the largely unimprovable game itself, the NFL will include it in a series of week-long events that incorporate youth football and community outreach.
"Our vision is to transform the Pro Bowl into more than a game on Sunday," said NFL director of youth football Roman Oben. "It's a week celebrating all levels of football."
I don't know what the NFL can do to make the Pro Bowl a more interesting game. But it might not have to. It can make money, draw eyes and promote an agenda regardless. And so it will.