2010 Pro Bowl Going to ESPN

ESPN said Tuesday it will televise the 2010 Pro Bowl, returning the
game to cable for the first time since 2006, according to Reuters.

The announcement breaks with recent practice, where, for the past
three years, the broadcast network that carries the Super Bowl also
carries the much-lower-rated Pro Bowl the week before. In 2008, it was
Fox Sports. In 2009, it will be NBC. But now ESPN will have the 2010
Pro Bowl instead of CBS, which will still carry the Super Bowl on
Feb. 7.

It wasn’t clear why CBS declined to televise the Pro Bowl, although,
under the terms of the 2006 rights agreements, the National Football
League has the right to shop the Pro Bowl rights for a particular year
if the network doesn’t want them. That’s apparently what happened here.

Terms of the NFL-ESPN pact weren’t disclosed, but it’s believed to
be a one-year deal. There is no information yet whether more years are in the works. Fox Sports is scheduled to carry the 2011 Pro
Bowl, along with the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl is no stranger to ESPN. Before the most recent rights
deal, ESPN carried the all-star game for two stretches: 1988-94, 2004, and 2006. The new rights deal, under which ABC gave up Monday Night Football in favor of ESPN, doesn’t allow ESPN a spot in
the rotation for Super Bowls.

But Tuesday’s news also gives ESPN another high-visibility sports
property that used to be on broadcast. Most recently, ESPN has bought
the rights to the future Bowl Championship Series and also golf’s
British Open.

For the NFL, this could mark a change in strategy. It’s going to be
the first Pro Bowl played before a Super Bowl and only the
second that will be played in the same city as the Super Bowl. The
first was the January 1967 Super Bowl I, played at the Los Angeles
Coliseum. No further Pro Bowl locations or dates have been announced.
The 2009 game will be played in Honolulu.

“We are looking at alternatives to strengthen the Pro Bowl,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. He said the plans will
be evaluated after the 2010 game.

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