Columnists, Sports

Going For Two: All-Star games are anything but that

The NFL Pro Bowl has lost its importance. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA
The NFL Pro Bowl has lost its importance. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA

This past Sunday, sports fans across the world were treated to two spectacles that didn’t help American sports become more appealing to the rest of the world: the NHL All-Star Game and the Pro Bowl. All-Star Games as a whole have become a largely futile attempt by the upper echelon of professional sports marketing to drum up both interest and revenue in their respective sports. While they claim the games are supposed rewards for loyal fans, the games are often torturous to sit through.

While the NHL’s version of the mid-season classic was actually both entertaining and competitive this season, it was the first to be so in my 20 years of sports memories, and it was largely due to the John Scott saga. The NHL All-Star Game has recently featured absurd contests like last year’s 17-12 barnburner or 2012’s 12-9 affair.

While hockey has largely been criticized, and unfairly so, for a lack of high-scoring games, score totals reaching the 20s and 30s is comical, if not an insult, to the game. The last time there was any semblance of a normal-scoring, close game during the NHL All-Star break was in 2004, a year before the lockout led to a focus on increased scoring by Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Ridiculously high-scoring games have not only been an issue for professional hockey’s “ASG,” but also every major professional sport’s All-Star Game. The NBA’s All-Star Game has not seen a team finish below 100 points — a pretty standard mark for a professional basketball game — since 1973. To give that context, Wilt Chamberlain and John Havlicek headlined the rosters for the Western and Eastern Conferences in that game and combined for 16 points. Comparatively, Russell Westbrook scored 41 in the 2015 All-Star Game.

While some do enjoy the NBA’s All-Star Game, as it resembles the game’s roots as a form of street ball, those who tune in to see the league’s best players square off are treated to the equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game.

The Pro Bowl has been the laughing stock of all professional sports games. While laughably high scores, such as 2015’s 32-28 battle, do not always characterize the game, the Pro Bowl has been equally bad due to the effort of coaches and players.

This year, for example, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. played free safety while Richard Sherman tried, in jest, to wrestle Clay Matthews. As no one can blame the players for wanting to have a fun, relaxed game and not put themselves at risk of injury in a meaningless game, the NFL needs to realize that their current system is not working. The Pro Bowl is such a joke that this year’s game saw a record amount of declines by the league’s best players. Eighty-six players were originally invited to the contest in Honolulu, but, due to the massive rejections by the NFL’s best players, 133 received an invitation. That means players who had spectacularly average seasons were suiting up for a game advertised as one between the league’s best.

Arguably the best All-Star Game is that of the MLB, which occurs in July every year. However, the increased ratings for the MLB All-Star Game may come as a result of it being the only major professional sports event occurring during that week.

The Mid-Summer Classic is the only All-Star Game that has significant postseason meaning for the sport. The winning league is rewarded with home-field advantage in the World Series, though a three-year winning streak by the American League has rendered that point mute. The MLB All-Star Game is also the only one of the four that has ever ended in a tie. In 2002, an 11-inning affair ended 7-7 after then Commissioner Bud Selig called the game. The fans booed and peppered the field with beers.

What all major professional sports need to focus on is how to make their current product better. If they choose to go down the route of an All-Star Weekend, then the main event should be skills competitions. The most profitable and most-watched contests during those stretches are often contests such as the MLB’s Home Run Derby, the NBA’s Dunk Contest and the NHL’s Shootout Challenge. These three competitions — the NFL does not have a single skills contest — provide fans with a chance to see players show off their skill, strength and creativity.

The future of low-stakes competition is not an event or idea that has not been thought of yet — it is instead staring us in the face. If professional sports listened to the trending reaction of their fans, they would abandon the premise of All-Star Games altogether. The NFL, the league that ushers in the most profits out of any sport, needs to move away from the relaxed style of the Pro Bowl and migrate towards small contests that give viewers a new perspective.

In today’s world, sports are often one of our biggest areas of focus. When our teams take a small break to provide us with the opportunity to see the best duke it out, we as fans deserve more than to turn off the TV bored by the lack of actual competition. 

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