NFL and local promoters trying to squeeze more out of Pro Bowl

Tuesday, February 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ NFL and local promoters are looking for ways to make the Pro Bowl a bigger financial and social benefit for the state and more than a vacation in Hawaii for the players.

Hoping for their 23rd consecutive sellout for Saturday's game, some NFL officials missed Sunday's Super Bowl victory by the New England Patriots to start weeklong activities leading to the game in Aloha Stadium.

Officials say it's difficult to tell how many people will come to Oahu for the Pro Bowl, but only about half the expected 50,000 tickets have been sold locally.

The Pro Bowl Ohana Committee of local supporters aims to bring the NFL and more local groups together for future Pro Bowls, said Kalowena Kameiji of Hawaii Public Television, the committee chairwoman. She said work will begin to organize events beyond Oahu and statewide participation in a Pro Bowl parade next year.

Manuel Menendez, committee member and executive director of Honolulu's economic development office, said the parade would include NFL players and local school athletic groups as a celebration of Hawaii sports.

``The issue is not whether we should have the Pro Bowl, but how do we enhance what we have?'' Menendez said.

Plans also call for NFL players to attend more clinics and visit more schools and youth groups in 2003, including some on other islands. Activities for this year's Pro Bowl are limited primarily to Oahu.

This year's game is being telecast live in Japan for the first time. It is also being played on Saturday for the first time.

Because it was delayed by a week because of the Sept. 11 attacks, the game will be competing for viewers with the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Bill McConnell, assistant director of NFL club relations, estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 people will come to Hawaii from the mainland or other countries to attend Saturday's game.

The number of Pro Bowl package tours sold this year increased from 40 last year to more than 500, McConnell said.

A Pro Bowl publicity booth at the Super Bowl was ``as much a Hawaii booth as a Pro Bowl booth,'' he said.

League officials also said the NFL has taken extra steps this year to make the Hawaii trip more appealing to the 95 players and 40 coaches and staff involved in the game.

Each participant received two first-class tickets to Hawaii, instead of the one offered in years past. The NFL is paying for 350 rooms at Marriott's Ihilani Resort in west Oahu and another 150 rooms at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, McConnell said. In addition, sponsors have rented another 650 rooms at the Hilton, he said.

The NFL has also tied up a large portion of the limousines available on Oahu to transport athletes and NFL guests around the island, McConnell said.

Some arrangements for the Pro Bowl were enhanced after top players were brought to NFL headquarters in New York last year to discuss how to make the Hawaii game a better experience for them, McConnell said.

McConnell said players like coming to Hawaii, but are tired at the end of the season. Activities arranged for them include military appearances, hospital visits and participation in school programs.

``It's been a long season, and they're used to getting paid for appearances,'' he said. ``It's a challenge to make good arrangements.''