Nearly a year after Gov. Neil Abercrombie equated a $4 million fee to keep the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii to a "bribe," the governor has changed his tune.
On Wednesday, the League announced a new agreement that brings the game back to Aloha Stadium in 2013, and the governor couldn't be happier.
"This is wonderful news for football fans in Hawaii and elsewhere who love watching the game," Abercrombie said after the announcement. "It's also great news for NFL players and their families who enjoy coming to our Aloha State."
Last June, Abercrombie highlighted the amount of money it took to keep the all-star game on Oahu in contrast to other funding priorities, for example state spending on early childhood education.
"These multimillionaires and billionaires (are) out there arguing about how they are going to divide it up, and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out there in paradise," the governor said at the time.
The comments drew immediate criticism from many Hawaii residents and NFL fans, who view the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium as an annual tradition.
In announcing the new deal that brings the game back to Hawaii a week before the Super Bowl in New Orleans, the League and the NFL Players Association promised to work closely to improve the quality of the game, which in January was plagued by lackluster play that some criticized as a glorified scrimmage.
"We have had many discussions with the players in recent years about the Pro Bowl, and they recognize that the quality of the game has not been up to NFL standards," said Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "We look forward to working with the players toward the goal of improving the competitiveness of this season's game."
In an afternoon press conference, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said it's paying the League $4.1 million for the privilege of hosting the game, roughly the same amount criticized by the governor.
HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney said Abercrombie's comments may have actually helped negotiations, since it brought the issue into laser-like focus.