Pro Bowl could go overseas
The NFL wants to market itself outside of the United States
Hawaii's streak of hosting every Pro Bowl since 1980 could end after next year's game.
The NFL wants to hold its all-star game and other events in foreign countries, retiring league commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at league meetings last week.
The NFL is aiming toward "live, regular-season games plus other important NFL events such as the Pro Bowl ... outside of the U.S.," Tagliabue said.
The league has a five-year contract with the state of Hawaii to play the Pro Bowl here through 2009.
But there is a clause that allows the league to move the game to another venue during the life of the contract by extending the commitment to Hawaii on the back end. So if the 2008 or 2009 game is moved, the current contract with Hawaii is automatically extended to 2010.
The 2007 game is scheduled for Aloha Stadium on Feb. 10 and won't be moved, according to the league.
"The planning is already set for '07," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said. "We are looking forward to another great finale to the season in Honolulu."
If the NFL does move the game during the life of the contract, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann -- who helped negotiate three prior Pro Bowl contracts -- said Hawaii should get something in return.
"If they do that we need to leverage it," Hannemann said. "Maybe we can negotiate the NFL helping us with staging a preseason game. This could be an opportunity to put other things on the table. Maybe another Roosevelt (the NFL assisted in refurbishing the high school's stadium) or another youth center (like the one the league is building on the Leeward Coast). I would be proactive about that."
Hannemann is among proponents for Hawaii hosting an NFL preseason game. Such a venture would require an investment of around $6 million, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is not prepared to invest in such a venture.
The NFL has held preseason games outside of the United States since 1986, and Aloha Stadium hosted the 49ers and Chargers in 1976.
The Pro Bowl has played to sellout crowds of around 50,000 every year at Aloha Stadium. But TV ratings have dropped for the game in recent years. ESPN's contract expired this year, and CBS will air the 2007 game; it was moved from Sunday to Saturday at the network's request.
In 2004 the NFL and the state agreed to a deal in which the state pays $4 million per year to host the game. The Pro Bowl generates around $30 million in visitor spending and $3 million in state tax revenue, according to figures released by the state.
China -- which league owners think might be a gold mine and signed a TV contract with the league last year -- could be the site of future NFL events including the Pro Bowl. The NFL is also becoming more popular in Japan, Australia and Europe.
Also, the league held its first regular-season game outside of the U.S. last year when the Cardinals and 49ers played in Mexico City before a crowd of 103,467.
"That's going to be our focus," Tagliabue said. "We started some conversation with the owners about what kind of structure, what kind of commitments it would take from all the teams to institutionalize that so the obligation of playing a game every now and then, a regular-season game, outside of the United States would become a part of the normal team participation in the National Football League."