Falling Stars: The Decline of All-Star Games

In 1933 Major League Baseball introduced sports fans to a radical new concept: the all-star game. Pitting the best players from each league against each other in a mid-season exhibition, the spectacle was instantly popular due to its high level of talent and competition. In future years, the NFL, NHL and NBA followed MLB’s lead.

The quality of all-star games has suffered, but ticket sales ensure the games go on.

Today’s all-star games are certainly not what they used to be. With players not wanting to risk injury and a general friendship amongst the players, the exhibitions feature little in the form of competition. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who won the 2012 NFL MVP award, questioned the level of play in this year’s Pro Bowl. Rodgers isn’t alone in his sentiments.

The NFL isn’t the only league struggling with its version of the all-star game. This year’s NBA All-Star Game was a snooze-fest and the atmosphere in Orlando was dead. People ripped the MLB All-Star Game for its shoddy selection process. Glance at the 12-9 score from this year’s NHL All-Star Game and look at the highlights and you can tell players aren’t really playing the game seriously. The games simply aren’t what they used to be, and the fans notice that.

Despite waning interest and declining play, the all-star games aren’t going away. Why? Because they help the leagues make money. To keep the games interesting changes have been made. In MLB, whatever league wins the All-Star Game earns home-field advantage in the World Series, which became significant last fall when the host St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the Fall Classic. Hockey has scrapped the East-West format and gone to a fantasy draft where players are selected like a middle school pickup game. Hey, at least the person picked last gets a new car.

An interesting new quirk employed by the NFL and NBA was to incorporate social media. For the first time ever, players in the Pro Bowl could tweet during the game. The experiment wasn’t without incident, however. The NBA employed a similar strategy, using a Facebook platform called Shaker that allowed viewers to interact during the skills competition. Tweeting during the dunk contest also went skyrocketing this year.

Whether any of these changes will be successful for the long-term is still up for debate. Don’t expect the all-star games to go away, though. There’s too much money at stake.

Photo (cc) by Rondo Estrello and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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