POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 13, 2011
Hawaii tourism officials were hesitant two years ago in agreeing to pay the National Football League $4 million for holding each of two Pro Bowls in Honolulu. Now Gov. Neil Abercrombie has denounced the contract as wasteful at a time when the state hasn't a nickel to spare. Whether he's right — that it's a bad bargain to pay millions to the wealthy NFL for the Pro Bowl — is hugely debatable. But for Hawaii tourism, and for football fans who faithfully fill the Aloha Stadium every time, the Pro Bowl has been a boon for the state, and vice versa.
At a discussion on early childhood education at the state Capitol on Thursday, Abercrombie criticized expenditures to "multibillionaire" NFL owners.
"You can't do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children. … That kind of egregious self-indulgence has to stop," he said.
The attendance at this year's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium accounted for $28.6 million in visitor spending and generated $3.07 million in state taxes from people who came here specifically to attend the all-star game. The NFL also provides $100,000 in grants to Native Hawaiian nonprofit organizations. It donated $1 million three years ago for construction of a Youth Education Town center in Nanakuli.
This year's game attracted 13.4 million viewers according to Fox, which televised it, good for a 7.7 Neilsen national TV rating, a 42.6 percent increase from the 2009 game at Aloha Stadium.
This year's game was played prior to the Super Bowl, proving wrong those whose predicted the ratings would drop because of the absence of stars readying for the championship match.
The Hawaii Tourism Board rejected two NFL proposals before accepting the $8 million deal in 2009. One of the board members said he was lobbied "passionately" by then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann before approval was finally reached.
Hannemann, now president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, said Abercrombie "doesn't have a history of dealing with the NFL, so it is going to take some education, some relationship building."
Among professional sports, the NFL is in a league of its own in wealth, but perhaps not quite as rich as Abercrombie estimated. The league's $7.6 billion in 2008 revenue included $1 billion in net income. The league at this time is in a lockout with the players association over the players' share of total revenue. Even so, pro football continues to be a huge and growing business, one that can afford to make allowances for the unprecedented fiscal woes faced by the Pro Bowl's host state for more than 30 years.
The NFL departed Honolulu last year, and the Pro Bowl was played at Miami, site of the Super Bowl a week later. Next January's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium will complete the current contract with the NFL. If the league decides to schedule the 2013 Pro Bowl at the Super Bowl venue the week before, it will be at a new domed stadium at Indianapolis.
The notion of traveling to Indiana in the middle of winter would be anything but appealing to both players and fans. It's a reminder that Hawaii, too, has been good for the Pro Bowl, the players and the league. When negotiating a new Pro Bowl contract, that's worth considering.