What started as a showcase for the best talents across the big four American sports leagues has turned into an overhyped event.
In theory, All-Star games sound like a sports fan’s dream. Each league hosting their own series of games and competitions designed for flashy performances from their best players. The reality though? Often times these All-Star games leave some of the best talents behind, put players at risk for injury and become nothing more than events designed for public relations teams rather than fans.
Every year the four big sports leagues, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, host All-Star games where the top players from across the league spend a weekend playing games and participating in various skills competitions. The player roster is typically determined by a mix of league executives and fan votes. While the roster is under construction for All-Star games, fans are typically encouraged by teams to go online and vote or tweet about players using customized hashtags. Of course, league superstars are practically guaranteed an invitation to the games but almost every year fans are left confused as to why certain players are left watching at home.
Now let’s talk about the games themselves. Each league hosts the games at different points of the year but no matter what one thing never changes: for the athletes, their bodies are their jobs. For an athlete, injuries are extremely serious as they can potentially take weeks, months or even up to a year to rehabilitate. This plays into an All-Star game performance because no athlete is going to put forth as much energy and sacrifice into a game that essentially means nothing. Winning an All-Star game doesn’t put them any closer to a championship or grow their contracts, but it could put them at risk of a serious injury which could result in lost playing time and money. This lack of effort leads to overly cautious play and disinterested fans.
Most fans can understand why athletes might not give their full effort to a game meant for fun, but the premise of the games is still to entertain. While certain segments of All-Star games have caught on as pop culture tradition, such as the NBA dunk contest, most years the games are fairly uneventful. That’s not to say there aren’t great plays or highlights in player performances, they just don’t hold the same weight as they would in an in-season game. Most games end in lopsided scores and uninspired performances but that doesn’t stop leagues from finding one moment to put on an endless social media promotion.
This is an ongoing problem for the NFL’s Pro-Bowl, as the numbers for TV views reveal. In the 2017 Pro-Bowl, the game brought in 7.4 million views and fell seven percent in ratings and TV views compared to the 2016 game. Then in 2018, the Pro-Bowl reached 8.6 million people. What could have lead to the jump in views? The 2018 Pro-Bowl had more effort and the excitement of a regular season game. While the play was still under par compared to an in-season game, there was more of a defensive presence and a come from behind victory. The close game and greater effort from players translated to a higher audience, proving that fans will still watch their favorite players, they just want a little bit of a show.
The NBA dunk contest is an example of the strategic work of team and league public relations staff during All-Star games to create excitement. In 2011, the NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest found itself in controversy over supposedly fixing the contest to ensure center Blake Griffin, who at the time played for the Los Angeles Clippers, won. Leo Florkowski from Bleacher Report chronicled the contest and moments he felt were obvious attempts of underserved scores for Griffin in the early rounds of competition. But that didn’t stop every Twitter account across the league from overwhelming timelines with pictures, videos and updates on Griffin’s winning dunk over the hood of a car.
Even three-time dunk champion Nate Robinson claimed Griffin’s victory was fabricated by the league. In an NBC report, Robinson said, “Of course. They set it up like that. They set it up for Blake to win it like that…” Robinson’s rationale behind a guaranteed Griffin victory is all about appeal factor.
“B-b-but why would the almighty ‘they’ do that? Because it’s in L.A.? Because Griffin is the likely Rookie of the Year? Because he finally has given the Clippers a budding star with national and global marketing appeal?” Robinson told reporters.
While fans were not necessarily upset Griffin won, as he had proved throughout the season he could make incredible dunks in games, the frustration arose more from losing trust in the league and integrity of the competition.
The biggest problem in All-Star games lies in the unentertaining events and over-hyped promises of leagues. Fans understand that All-Star games are meant for fun and flashiness but it feels as if the event has turned into a tradition forced by league commissioners to try and make more money. For all the time, money and effort leagues use to create the games, it seems as if fans leave more disappointed and disinterested each year.