The NFL is replacing the Pro Bowl with weeklong skills competitions and flag football, The Associated Press has learned.
The new event will replace the full-contact showcase that began in 1951. It will be renamed “The Pro Bowl Games” and will feature AFC and NFC players showcasing their football and non-football skills in challenges over several days. The 2023 Games will be held in Las Vegas, and the flag football game at Allegiant Stadium is on February 5.
Peyton Manning and his company Omaha Productions will help shape programming and promote the event’s content throughout the week. Manning, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection during his Hall of Fame career, will provide his perspective and also be part of the coaching staff for a pennant game.
“The Pro Bowl is something that we’ve looked at for a while, really continues to evolve,” NFL executive Peter O’Reilly told The Associated Press. “Coming out of last year’s game, we really made the decision based on a lot of internal conversations, getting feedback from GMs and coaches, getting a lot of feedback from players. We think there’s a real opportunity to do something completely different here and move away from the traditional tackle football game. We decided the goal was to celebrate 88 of the biggest stars in the NFL in a really positive, fun, yet competitive way.
“The feedback very directly from guys who have been in the Pro Bowl recently has been to keep the building of the week, make sure you have that multi-day element. It’s been overwhelmingly positive from both players and clubs.”
The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and remained there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972 to 1980. Hawaii hosted from 1980 to 2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.
Quality of play in the Professional championship has often been criticized. Players, understandably concerned about injury, treat it as an exhibition more than a competition. Flag football could increase competition by avoiding potential injuries resulting from tackling, blocking and hitting.
The NFL has a major interest in flag football. The league has partnered with the International Federation of American Football to bring flag football to The World Games in July with an eye towards the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“You take all the things that feel great about Pro Bowl week, the skills, the helmets, the commitment and then culminate that, keeping the AFC-NFC building, into something really important, which is flag football and that opportunity to have the best athletes in the NFL out there playing this game that is so much about the future of our sport,” said O’Reilly, the league’s executive vice president, club business and league events. “It’s been an evolution, but coming out of Las Vegas last year, we really focused on how we reinvent and celebrate our stars even better.”
The league plans to announce the new format on Monday.
“The Pro Bowl has always been a time to step back and celebrate the game of football with teammates, fans and family,” Manning told the AP. “I’m grateful that I can continue to be a part of the week as all of us at Omaha Productions are working with the NFL to reimagine The Pro Bowl Games. To make Sunday’s game flag football is great to see. Youth football was extremely important to me. , and knowing that NFL FLAG will help grow this sport, I hope boys and girls can see themselves playing the same game as the best players in the world.”
Fan voting will still help determine the rosters of the AFC and NFC teams. Tom Brady has the most invitations to the Pro Bowl with 15. Four players received 14 invitations, including Manning. The East-West Shrine Bowl will be held at Allegiant Stadium on Thursday, February 2nd.