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Pro Bowl is Orlando's chance to make NFL take notice

Orlando’s refurbished Citrus Bowl is ready and waiting.

Loren Elliott/tbt*

Orlando’s refurbished Citrus Bowl is ready and waiting.

Of course, we're going to passionately pursue the NFL Pro Bowl.

Of course, we're going to make a relatively small investment in a sporting event that could pay huge dividends in the future.

Of course, the Tourist Development Council is going to ante up a few million bucks to get our foot in the door with the most powerful, prestigious sports entity in this country.

After all, the NFL is the undisputed king of all sports in this sports-crazy nation, and when the king offers to grace you with his presence, you don't say, "Sorry, king, we've got better things to do."

Florida Citrus Sports officials confirmed Tuesday that they have submitted a proposal that would bring the Pro Bowl to Central Florida for multiple years beginning in 2017. This is huge news for Orlando and the refurbished Citrus Bowl, which is already gaining a reputation as a destination site for high-profile college football games, concerts and one of the most raucous, rabid Major League Soccer experiences in the country.

"We've been very aggressively trying to showcase Orlando," said Steve Hogan, Florida Citrus Sports CEO and the man whose job it is to bring premier sporting events to the Citrus Bowl. "We believe it is the best city to host the Pro Bowl, and the NFL has given us the opportunity to pitch our city. We hope when all is said and done, we're going to be hosting the game."

Said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs: "We've been in discussions ... about the possibility of hosting the NFL Pro Bowl at the Citrus Bowl. Currently, we're refining the process for evaluating the use of TDT (Tourist Development Tax) funds for such events. I am confident that once that effort is concluded, we will be able to compete to bring this marquee event to our community."

Let's not get bogged down in the politics and process. Let's make this happen ASAP. Just like we made the Amway Center happen. Just like we made the performing arts center happen. Just like we made the Citrus Bowl happen. Just like we made MLS happen ... and the NBA All-Star Game ... and Wrestlemania ... and the Rolling Stones ... and upcoming college football showcase games such as Florida vs. Miami, Florida State vs. Ole Miss, Alabama vs. Louisville.

Orlando has come this far, this fast, and can't blow it now that it has a chance at the NFL.

In fact, let's blow the NFL away with our desire and dedication to lure the Pro Bowl here.

It's been reported we would have to come up with $2.5 million per year in hosting fees to get the Pro Bowl. That's nothing in today's grand scheme of big-time sports. In fact, I think the number is low considering Honolulu — the longtime host of the Pro Bowl — forked out closer to $5 million per year. Of course, Orlando has a bigger, better stadium than Honolulu and would be able to recoup more of the capital outlay by selling more tickets, parking spots and $10 beers. But even if it's a money-loser, Orlando wins in the end.

The Pro Bowl is not the Super Bowl, and many sports fans like to lampoon the event because it's a meaningless exhibition that NFL players don't take seriously. But guess what? Sports fans still watch it. Not as much as they used to, but they still watch it. Here's all you need to know: The Pro Bowl regularly gets better TV ratings than almost every NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball playoff game.

Why? Because it's the NFL — and we love us some NFL. What better way to spend tourist tax money than on a sporting event that will show the City Beautiful in all its glory to millions of potential tourists across the globe. Even if you take away the massive TV and media coverage, just think of the positive publicity of 100 famous NFL players who are here for a week on social media telling their millions of followers and friends how much fun they're having in Orlando.

And imagine the networking opportunities for our city's civic and sports leaders, who will have the opportunity to rub elbows with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, all of those billionaire owners, major corporate sponsors and broadcast partners.

Who knows what future opportunities this hobnobbing could cultivate? Maybe Frito-Lay opens a major manufacturing plant in Central Florida. Maybe the owners of the Tampa Bay Bucs and Jacksonville Jaguars finally see the light and decide to start playing regular-season games in Orlando. Maybe NFL honchos will realize that Orlando is the biggest TV market in the nation without an NFL team and should be considered for an expansion franchise someday.

As Walt Disney, the most influential figure in Central Florida history once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

Or as another famous former Central Floridian — Larry the Cable Guy — once said:

"Git-R-Done."

—Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

Pro Bowl is Orlando's chance to make NFL take notice 04/21/16 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2016 9:56pm]
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