2010 Pro Bowl Going to ESPN

ESPN will televise the 2010 Pro Bowl, taking the game that was expected to be on CBS and returning it to cable for the first time since 2006.

The NFL said Tuesday that the game will take place the Sunday night, Jan. 31, before the Super Bowl the next weekend Feb. 7 at Dolphin Stadium in south Florida.

The announcement breaks recent practice, where for the past three years the broadcast network that carries the Super Bowl would also carry the much-lower-rated Pro Bowl. In 2008, it was Fox Sports. In 2009, it will be NBC. But now ESPN will have the 2010 Pro Bowl instead of CBS, which will still carry the Super Bowl.

It wasn’t clear why CBS declined to televise the Pro Bowl, though under the terms of the 2006 right agreements the NFL has the right to shop the Pro Bowl rights for a particular year if that network doesn’t want them. That’s apparently what happened here.

Terms of the NFL-ESPN deal weren’t disclosed, but it’s believed to be a one-year deal. There is no information as yet to whether there are more years in the works. Fox Sports is scheduled to carry the 2011 Pro Bowl, along with the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl is no stranger to ESPN. Before the most recent rights deal, ESPN carried the all-star game for two stretches: Between 1988 and 1994 and 2004 and 2006. The new rights deal, where ABC gave up “Monday Night Football” in favor of ESPN, doesn’t allow ESPN a spot in the rotation for Super Bowls.

But Tuesday’s news also gives ESPN another high-visibility sports property that used to be on broadcast. Most recently ESPN has bought the rights to the future Bowl Championship Series and also golf’s British Open.

For the NFL, this could mark a change in strategy. It’s going to be the first Pro Bowl that is played before a Super Bowl, and only the second that will be played in the same city as the Super Bowl. The first was the January 1967 Super Bowl I, played at the Los Angeles Coliseum. No further Pro Bowl locations or dates have been announced. The 2009 game will be played in Honolulu.

“We are looking at alternatives to strengthen the Pro Bowl,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. He said the plans will be evaluated after the 2010 game.