The NFL will not hold a Pro Bowl in 2021, cancelling its all-star game for the first time in more than seven decades. The league is focusing instead on keeping its regular season and postseason on track while dealing with the coronavirus.
Las Vegas was scheduled to host the event at its new Allegiant Stadium following the season. With the cancellation, the 2022 event will be held there instead.
Despite the cancellation of the actual Pro Bowl game, the league intends to go forward with the selection and honoring of Pro Bowl teams from each conference. Fans will be able to vote for their favorite players beginning in mid-November, with teams expected to be announced in December as the regular season winds down. Fan voting will be combined with polls of active players and coaches to determine the 88 players selected for the roster.
Without an in-person event to honor the players chosen, the “league will work closely with the NFLPA and other partners, to create a variety of engaging activities to replace the Pro Bowl game this season,” the league says in a post announcing the decision to cancel the game. “This virtual recognition of the season’s finest players will provide fans the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of their favorite stars.”
There have been Pro Bowl games every year dating back to 1950, including nearly a decade of two Pro Bowls in the 1960s while the NFL and AFL both operated independently. The 2020 Pro Bowl took place on January 26 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The AFC took a 38-33 victory over the NFC in the game behind an MVP performance from the Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. 54,024 fans were in attendance for the game, which took place one week before Super Bowl LIV.
The COVID pandemic has led to numerous shifts in how the NFL (and all other professional sports) have operated, attempting to balance operating and safety for players and fans alike. Teams have been dealing with severe restrictions on fan attendance based on local public health considerations, as well as game delays and facility closures due to player and staff cases of infection. The league has repeatedly stressed its intention to crack on with as much of its normal slate as it can manage, including playoffs and Super Bowl LV, which Florida authorities have expressed hope can include full attendance at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.