The Pro Bowl’s future in Hawaii remains uncertain after the Hawaii Tourism Authority rejected the latest offer from the National Football League that would have brought the game back to Aloha Stadium in 2011 and 2012.
The HTA board came up one vote shy of the seven needed to accept the NFL’s offer to bring the game back to Hawaii during the week before the Super Bowl for US$4 million a year. The vote was 6-4 in favor of accepting.
“There is sufficient reason to be concerned that this second rejection of the NFL’s offer is a risk,” said Kelvin Bloom, chairman of the HTA board, who voted to accept the offer. “There is a demonstrated benefit to the state … to industry and certainly to the community.”
The annual NFL All-Star game ended a 30-year run in Hawaii this year and next year will be played in Dolphin Stadium in Miami a week before the Super Bowl.
The board, the agency that contracted with the NFL to bring the Pro Bowl to the state, asked for an amendment to the rejection motion that allows for negotiations with the NFL to continue.
HTA board members expressed concern about the NFL’s desire to play the game a week before the Super Bowl and will evaluate whether the NFL’s experiment in Miami will be successful. If the NFL deems the scheduling change unsuccessful, the HTA will ask that the game be played in Hawaii after the Super Bowl in 2011 and 2012 as part of the state’s effort to seek a better offer from the NFL.
“We have not heard anything from the HTA, so we cannot comment,” said Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications for the NFL.
It is the second offer from the NFL that the HTA has rejected in the past two months.
Last month, the board rejected an offer by the NFL to play the game in Honolulu in two of the next four years, starting in 2011. The board rejected that offer because the NFL would not say specifically which two years the game would be played in Hawaii.
State officials expressed concern about the HTA board’s rejection, saying the game is a popular event for Hawaii visitors and residents.
“The Pro Bowl belongs in Hawaii. While I recognize the merit of keeping open the option of when the game will be played, I strongly encourage the Hawaii Tourism Authority to continue negotiations with the goal of bringing the Pro Bowl back to Hawaii in 2011 and 2012,” said Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona Jr. “The people of Hawaii want an agreement, and it is time to deliver.”
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said: “Clearly, today’s vote was the wrong one. We cannot continue to have negative messages emanating from Hawaii during these challenging economic times. … The Pro Bowl provides Hawaii thousands of visitors, worldwide television exposure, and contributions to local charities.”
Visitors to Hawaii who came specifically to attend the Pro Bowl, played at Aloha Stadium Febuary 8, spent US$28.6 million, compared with US$28.07 million in 2008, according to a study conducted by Market Trends Pacific Research.
The game brings in an average of US$28 million in visitor spending to the state every year it is played here.
This year’s game, won by the NFC 30-21, generated US$2.9 million in state excise, hotel and car-rental taxes, compared with US$2.5 million in 2008, the study said.
There were 49,958 fans in the stands at Aloha Stadium for the Pro Bowl this year, compared with 49,621 in 2008.
“They (the HTA board) just couldn’t see the game being played prior to the Super Bowl … now you don’t have any of the Super Bowl players at the game,” said Lloyd Unebasami, interim president and CEO for the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “That was something they felt really uncomfortable with.”
Options to play the game in Honolulu also hinge on whether Aloha Stadium can be renovated and improved. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that Aloha Stadium needs to be significantly improved before future dates are nailed down.
Comprehensive stadium renovation plans have been sent to the NFL starting last year. The state approved a five-year, US$180 million plan to renovate Aloha Stadium that will be funded each year according to the legislature’s appropriations for the work.
Replacing the 33-year-old stadium would cost US$240 million to US$300 million, according to a study released last year.