By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — A tourism official in charge of negotiating with the NFL on holding the Pro Bowl in Honolulu says the state is open to giving the league flexibility if it wants to alternate the game between Hawaii and other locations.
David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that both the state and the NFL want a long-term agreement. He says Hawaii can make a deal for up to four games given state laws.
“I think they’re exploring their options in going to the mainland, but as long as we stay on top of it and the players continue to express their interest, I think we’re in the game,” Uchiyama said.
Uchiyama said the league and state have been discussing several options for a deal that gives NFL its flexibility while still making a long-term commitment to Hawaii, where the Pro Bowl is a big deal for tourism and marketing the state to potential visitors. One option, Uchiyama said, would be a seven-year deal with four Pro Bowls played in Honolulu.
Uchiyama said Hawaii has been fine with the NFL considering its options because Honolulu stacks up well with other potential sites.
“We’re pretty confident that the experience we can give them here is going to be like no other that they’re going to have anywhere else on the mainland,” he said.
The NFL has not committed to a Pro Bowl beyond next year, in Hawaii or elsewhere.
League spokesman Jon Zimmer said the NFL is focused on making the 2014 game a success.
“We are actively engaged in conversations with our players on how to make the game more exciting from a fan’s perspective,” Zimmer said.
Uchiyama said talks with the NFL have been ongoing, including email discussions this week, and he believes a decision will be reached before next year’s game.
Uchiyama spoke with the AP after appearing on a panel on the Pro Bowl’s future that featured a former league executive and former Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz.
Kreutz, who went to high school in Honolulu, said players prefer Hawaii for the Pro Bowl because of tradition and the ability to celebrate a strong season in a place that’s desirable for players’ families and friends.
Uchiyama said the game is well worth the $4 million per year Hawaii pays to host the game. He said that money is invested back into the local economy through vendors and other arrangements during Pro Bowl Week, and generates invaluable marketing exposure. Uchiyama said the game also draws 18,000 visitors to the state, who spend $20 million and generate $2.8 million in taxes.
The future of the Pro Bowl has come into question because of the game’s competitiveness, as well as issues of timing, television ratings and other factors.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia