The president of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association said Tuesday the departure of the NFL's Pro Bowl for Orlando, Florida, is a black eye to the state's sports tourism sector.
Mufi Hannemann said it will be difficult to get the game to return. The former mayor of Honolulu said the state should have leveraged its longtime Pro Bowl relationship to bring a preseason game to the islands, he said.
"We lost a partnership with a major sports organization that helped us to be able to say to the world that we can and we do hold major sports attractions in Hawaii. This is just another black eye that adds to the shortcomings of late," Hannemann said.
He listed the cancellation of a U.S. women's soccer game after the players complained of poor field conditions at Aloha Stadium and the loss of professional golf tournaments as examples of setbacks.
Keeping the game in Hawaii would have helped the state give people another reason to visit, he said. The industry is always looking to give people a reason to travel here, not just for the weather and the culture, he said.
Three people with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the NFL would move the game to Orlando. The NFL is expected to announce the move during a news conference scheduled with ESPN in Florida on Wednesday.
Hawaii Tourism Authority spokeswoman Charlene Chan said the NFL has asked the agency to refrain from commenting until it announces its decision.
State Rep. Tom Brower said the game is important for the exposure it gives the state and for the people it brings to Hawaii, Brower said. It stings to lose the revenue, he said.
"That's a sign that we need to compete harder," Brower said, adding he hopes the game will return to Hawaii in the future.
The tourism authority, a state agency that promotes travel to Hawaii, paid the NFL $5 million to host the all-star game in Honolulu this past January. The agency's contract with the NFL called for the tourism authority to pay another $5 million to bring the game back in 2017, but the deal allowed either side to back out by Tuesday.
The agency has said the television broadcast of the 2014 Pro Bowl gave Hawaii exposure worth $26.2 million. The game also brought 15,000 visitors to the islands.
Honolulu hosted the game for 30 years until the NFL moved it to Miami in 2010. It returned to the islands afterward, but it was held in Glendale, Arizona, in 2015.