It was supposed to be a star-studded event in Las Vegas. Instead, the 2021 Pro Bowl will take place virtually, with players going head-to-head in Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL ’21 video game, the league announced on Tuesday.
In a sign of the times, EA Sports and the National Football League have teamed up to create a week-long series of virtual match-ups that will include celebrities, football legends and current players, leading up to the main event — a game of Madden between the league’s best players. The exact date of the game is still being determined.
“We’re excited to bring this to life virtually and be the first to do so,” Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president of club business and league events at the NFL, told CNBC. “It’s an opportunity to connect with young fans in a way that’s really accessible.”
The Pro Bowl typically pits the best players from the NFL’s two conferences — the American Football Conference and National Football Conference — against each other in a game that takes place the week before the Super Bowl. But last month, the NFL announced it would cancel the 2021 Pro Bowl game because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The game, which typically draws about 8.5 million viewers, was to be played in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium on Jan. 31.
Instead, the group of elite players will be pounding on their game consoles and yelling trash talk as they go head-to-head in the Madden game. The league says the format of AFC versus NFC will remain the same.
“You can imagine Patrick Mahomes playing as himself as an AFC quarterback against Aaron Donald on the NFC side. So bring those type players to the game and allow celebrities and others to be part of that virtual game and obviously allow fans to see that and be part of it,” said O’Reilly.
The NFL is working out the details of the broadcast arrangement with Disney-owned ABC and ESPN, but the event will be broadcast across all major social media channels.