Hackett: The only way to save the Pro Bowl is by turning it over to fantasy football fans

Jim Hackett
January 25, 2019 - 11:31 am

Here's how to fix the Pro Bowl: don't play it.

Maybe it's the fantasy football enthusiast in me but I think there's a better way to celebrate the best players in football than to have a meaningless annual scrimmage between disinterested professionals. I'd rather watch highlights of a middle aged Uncle Rico or Al Bundy, 35 years past their primes, than watch a host of stars and the replacements of said stars, simply going through the motions.

Here's a better idea. Don't play the game, just break down the players.

I'm one of the reported 75 million people that play fantasy football each year and am part of the fantasy football community as an on-air host here at WEEI, fantasy analyst and so-called casual expert. One might say, I'm not only hair club president, but I'm also a client... and I'm telling you there's a better way to do this. Newsflash to the NFL and its money thirsty minions, you can make more money doing it my way. If Roger Goodell could read, I'm sure that nugget would have caught his attention.

For those who can read, here's how you do it.

Fantasy football has grown over 100 percent in terms of users in just four years. Four years! Forbes reported that back in 2014, 33 million people were playing fantasy football and that number has more than doubled during that time. How many industries have accomplished that feat? To quote Judge Smails from Caddy Shack, "Well, we're waiting…" If you're curious about revenue numbers we're talking about an industry generating billions of dollars annually. So, how do we fix the Pro Bowl? Simple. Apply a fantasy football mentality to it.

Fantasy football enthusiasts LOVE drafting players. We love trading for players. We love analyzing players, scouting players and spend hours upon hours upon hours just staring at information, names, data, trends, depth charts and video. Over and over and over again. It's my favorite addiction and I'm most certainly not alone.

So, to the dummies that run the NFL, if you need to fill time and sell time on TV during the NFL's most boring week, simply create a "Pro Bowl Show" that feeds your audience information about the players given the Pro Bowl award each year. 88 players are given Pro Bowl honors every season. A TV show that has a good panel of experts, giving five minutes of analysis while rolling player highlights gives you 440 minutes of air-time. That's over 7-1/2 hours of programming. Hey NFL, If you can't sell that than give up.

If a 5 minute video highlight of Shaq Mason doesn't quite do it for you, then give Offensive lineman 2 minutes and skill position players 5-10 minutes. However the math shakes out, the idea is doable. Heck it's even pliable. Speaking of pliability, Brady should get at least 15 minutes of air-time on that show while we're on that topic.

Important to note, both the NFL Network and ESPN sell this format with wild success every year already and the two networks actually do it at the same time. It's called the NFL Draft. Lots of people watch the first night of the NFL Draft to see the top players and where they will land. Viewers that night watch even more enthusiastically to see who their team will eventually take and that's just on day one. Fantasy football players? We watch until there's nothing left to watch. To underscore that point, I actually SAW the Braxton Berrios pick last year. For those who aren't aware (why are you reading this?), Berrios is a wide receiver out of the University of Miami that the Patriots selected late in the sixth round of the draft. The point is, if there's an audience like that for late round rookies, there is most certainly a ravenous appetite with that same audience for the league's stars.

A few years ago, the NFL and the networks it partners with finally recognized where the growing enthusiasm about the game was coming from, fantasy. Now every network has segments during its Thursday, Sunday and Monday programming specifically targeting fantasy owners.

Some Networks like the NFL Network and ESPN have dedicated fantasy football shows in an effort to capitalize on this massive audience and growing revenue stream.

The fantasy football vertical is evolving, growing rapidly and continually and has the precise formula and audience to save the NFL's weakest link, the Pro Bowl. Maybe they'll be smart and target this built in audience who would love nothing more than to dive into some good solid football insight this Sunday. Instead, I probably won't even have the TV on and will give the game and league little if any thought. Not a great formula for a P1, active customer. A customer whose favorite brand, the Patriots are once again in the Super Bowl.

Word to the not so wise NFL, find a better way to engage me this Sunday. Or maybe just read this article, if you're able. . .