The Pro Bowl is a joke. You know it. I know it. The NFL and NBC most certainly know it. The game is such a joke that jokes about the game are even getting old fast and seem as fresh as Tebowing.
We've reached some sort of absurd meta level of ridiculousness that everyone involved with the Pro Bowl from the players to the referees to the announcers promote the farcical nature of the exhibition. I mean come on, an NFC player snapping the ball to an AFC player? I know Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning were teammates for a really long time and it's such an adorable photo op, but isn't he lined up in an offside position? Aren't there about 17 illegal things happening here? I'm just waiting for someone to be sacked with a bucket of confetti.
But in spite of what the Pro Bowl offers with dozens of players skipping the game and the rest not really giving a darn, millions and millions of viewers around America still tune in to watch because anything the NFL touches turns to gold. You could pit a team of junior college players against a ragtag group of XFL veterans, slap NFL logos on them, and still win the night in ratings. For reasons unbeknownst to me, 12.5 million people watched the Pro Bowl Sunday night:
NBC expected to win Sunday night on strength of Pro Bowl, which did 7.7 o'night. 2012 Pro Bowl (7.9 o'night) finished w 12.5 million viewers— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 28, 2013
While it's not close to the 40 something million that tuned in over championship weekend, it's still a massive number in the general context of sports outside the NFL. Consider that more people watched an exhibition football game with the defensive intensity of a Mike D'Antoni walkthrough than Game 1 of the World Series. More people watched a game where a backwards onside kick was attempted than the Stanley Cup Finals. Or the Orange Bowl. Or golf's US Open.
Just how ridiculously popular is the NFL? With help from the impressive ratings database that is Sports Media Watch and through scouring the web, here's a list of real, presitigious sporting events that were outdrawn by the Pro Bowl if that 12.5 million number holds...
*Games 1-3 of the World Series - 12.2, 12.3, 10.5 million viewers
*Kansas vs UNC Elite Eight - 11.7 million viewers
*LSU vs Alabama football - 11.4 million viewers
*Games 1-6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals - Max 11.1 million viewers
*MNF Panthers vs Eagles - 10.7 million viewers
*Orange Bowl (NIU v FSU) - 10.5 million viewers
*US Olympic Gymnastic Trials - 10.0 million viewers
*Final Round US Open Golf - 9.6 million viewers
*NBA Western Conference Finals - Max 9.6 million viewers
*Michigan vs Ohio State football - 9.5 million viewers
*Olympic Men's Tennis Final - 8.6 million viewers
*Belmont Stakes - 7.7 million viewers
*Coca Cola 600 - 7.4 million viewers
*Indianapolis 500 - 6.8 million viewers
*Ryder Cup Day 3 - 5.5 million viewers
*Stanley Cup Final - Max 4.9 million viewers
*Heisman Trophy Ceremony - 4.9 million viewers
*Olympic Gold Medal Women's Soccer Final - 4.4 million viewers
*NASCAR Chase for the Cup - 4.2 million viewers
*Baylor vs Notre Dame WBB National Championship - 4.2 million viewers
*UFC on Fox 6 - 3.8 million viewers
*UEFA Champions Leage Final - 2.0 million viewers
*MLS Cup Final - 797,000 viewers