Pro Bowl could be blacked out in Hawaii

1/28/2009 - NFL

HONOLULU -- Amid a deteriorating economy and a sharp decline in tourism to Hawaii, tickets to the Pro Bowl haven't been selling as well as previous years, and whether the event will return to Honolulu in future years remains uncertain.

The NFL on Wednesday said the league's all-star game could be blacked out on television in Hawaii if the roughly 5,000 remaining tickets are not sold 72 hours before the Feb. 8 game. The game has sold out, usually weeks in advance, every year since moving to the 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium in 1980.

"Pro Bowls are usually sold out by now. That's why we're particularly concerned," said Frank Supovitz, the NFL's senior vice president of events.

Besides the tourism slowdown and economic woes, Supovitz said some fans may not realize tickets are still available. The cheapest seats available are $45. He's hoping for a rush of sales in the final days.

The Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., had no problems selling out even with ticket prices hitting a record $1,000 apiece. But it is also feeling some of the economic pressures. General Motors and FedEx pulled their TV ads, even though NBC lowered the price of air time.

"The NFL is not immune to the pressures of the economic environment and that's true for all of our events and all of our games," Supovitz said. "So we don't know what the ultimate effect on the Super Bowl will be -- whether people will buy a little bit less merchandise or a little less concessions. ... The final results won't be known until after the game is played."

Negotiations continue between the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the NFL to host future Pro Bowls. A recent proposal by the NFL was rejected by the HTA board.

"It really rests with the HTA," Supovitz said. "If they would like us to be back, we'd like to be back. It's now just a question of the details that are required to come to an agreement."

The NFL already announced the 2010 Pro Bowl will be played in Miami's Dolphin Stadium a week before the Super Bowl. The last time the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl were played in the same city was in 1967, when it was held the week after the title game in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"It's not a formula we will use every year," Supovitz said. "It's our intent to tour the Pro Bowl periodically and make sure Hawaii is in the rotation."

He said both sides want the Pro Bowl to return to Hawaii and were hopeful a deal would be reached.

The state paid the NFL about $4 million a game under their expiring five-year contract.

Losing the Pro Bowl in 2010 and future years could hurt tourism-dependent Hawaii, which is already reeling from the global economic turmoil.

Last year's Pro Bowl generated an estimated $28 million in visitor spending and $2.5 million in state taxes.

"It's not so far apart that I feel we can't come to an agreement. I think we can," Supovitz said. "I just hoped that we would've come to an agreement before this Pro Bowl. But we'll be working very hard to make sure that we can come to an agreement as soon as possible after the Pro Bowl."

Lloyd Unebasami, interim chief executive of the state tourism agency, would only say that the NFL and Hawaii were "diligently trying to put something together for the benefit of both parties."