February 18, 2013

All-Star Games Are in Need of Some Resuscitation

By - Andy Garcia

Pro-sports all-star games just aren't what they used to be. Or at least, that's what the Nielsen television ratings are telling us.

Photo from: espn.go.com
Over the years, the major professional sports leagues in America have seen the ratings for their respective all-star games diminish. Even the juggernaut that is the National Football League has seen the popularity of its annual Pro Bowl go downhill. And competition-wise, it's quite possibly the worst one of the four, but more on that later.

As the most popular sports league in America, the NFL always has impressive viewership, controlling TV ratings all year long. But compared to how well the playoffs, and obviously the Super Bowl, do, the Pro Bowl falls well short of that.

The NBA All-Star Game has also seen a steady decrease in viewers over the last decade. Not surprisingly, the ratings began to take a major hit once Michael Jordan retired. The Golden Days were very much in the 90s when His Airness ruled the league. They have not reached double-digit ratings for an all-star game since 1998. The two years that were highest since then were of course when MJ came out of retirement for the second time to play for the Washington Wizards.

The last time the MLB All-Star Game received double-digit ratings was way back in 2001. But even though their ratings have also gone down, they've remained respectable and have not dropped significantly.

It is fascinating to see the ratings the MLB All-Star Game received in previous decades, however, namely in the 70s. Back then it would consistently draw a 20.0+ rating, compared to the 8.5 it has averaged over the last ten years or so.

Lastly, the NHL All-Star Game has never really seen great ratings, but it is the only one of the four major sports leagues that has had stable numbers throughout the years. But being the least popular sport of the "Big Four" and with ratings shy of 2.0, I wouldn't say their all-star game popularity is exactly thriving, either.

What is the reason for these all-star games not drawing in the fans as much anymore? There are many possible explanations for this, but two big ones stand out for me.

One major problem is that most all-star games have no incentive for the players. MLB has tried to address this issue by making the American and National Leagues play for home-field advantage in the World Series. While many fans argue that this isn't necessarily fair for the actual teams that make it to the Fall Classic, I like the fact that they are trying to motivate the players to put forth their best effort.

This is the biggest problem with the Pro Bowl. Players don't care enough to actually try. I understand the risk of injury is greater in football, but injuries can happen at any given moment. If you only play to not get injured, then you might as well not play. The game has been brutal to watch over the last couple years due to no one giving it 100% on the field.

There are already financial incentives for players to try and win, but what's a measly $50,000 to a guy who makes a million dollars for each regular season game? The NFL needs to up the winner's purse or add something else worth playing for.

The other main issue is probably the lack of change in general. It seems that it's the same exact thing every single year. While it's entertaining to see the best players in the league compete against each other, there really isn't anything different year in and year out, not to mention it's almost always the same guys making the squads every season as well.

Fan voting has a lot to do with this. By letting the fans vote, the leagues are basically allowing it to be a popularity contest rather than it being merit based. One solution might be to let only the coaches and players vote for who gets in. They would be more likely to select players who are deserving, not just the superstars.

A change in scenery could also work. For instance, having an outdoor all-star game like the annual Winter Classic might spark more interest for the NHL. The same thing could work for the NBA, or they could set something up like the USS Midway Game that the NCAA does.

The bottom line is, these leagues need to develop some new and refreshing ideas for their all-star events if they want more people tuning in, because the fans generally don't care about the games anymore.

And for good reason.


  1. I couldn't have said it any better myself. Nicely done.

  2. Unfortunately, there is nothing the league can do. The popularity has waned due to the lack of interest by the players themselves. A big part of that is the money. In the 60s and 70s, a nice bonus for making and winning the All-Star games was important. It's not any more. But likewise, because there is so much money made by these athletes, they just don't care any more. They don't play for pride or for love of the game anymore. It's all about how much they can stuff in their pockets.

  3. I agree with Keith for the most part. To take it a step further I think the leagues themselves are pretty much doing all they can do to get people interested. The MLB, NBA and NHL make a weekend event out of their all-star festivities. The NFL should follow suit and make theirs more of a gala event. That might help.

  4. I think all the all star games are a waste of time. Just name them all stars or pro bowlers or whatever then give them a few days off to recharge their batteries so they can be fresh for the second half of the season. I don't think anyone would miss the all star games if they just did away with them all.