All-Star Games: A Thing of the Past?

Eric SalomonContributor IJanuary 26, 2009

This past weekend, in addition to being an off week for the NFL, was the NHL All-Star Weekend.  The Eastern Conference won the game 12-11 in a shootout.  The question here is: who cares?

All-Star games are meant to be showcases of the top players in the league.  Over the past decade or so, interest in these games, for all sports, has declined rapidly. 

To take hockey as an example, yesterday's game was televised on Versus, a channel that only subscribers to digital cable service can receive.  The 2007 game (also televised on Versus) received a lowly 0.7 Nielsen rating. 

In football, the NFL recently made the decision to move the Pro Bowl to the Super Bowl host city and hold it the week before the Super Bowl as opposed to the week after.  The decision was made after the NFL's executives saw a trend in decreasing viewership.

In my opinion, the coverage of the Super Bowl saturates the sports media to the point where fans are tired of it by the time the game is over.  We will see over the next couple of years whether the timing of the Pro Bowl or the extensive coverage of the Super Bowl has more to do with lackluster viewership.

Moving right along, the Midsummer Classic (a.k.a. the MLB All-Star Game) has also seen a negative trend in viewership.  This trend, spanning two decades, has seen viewership decrease from 29 million in 1988 to 12.5 million in 2007, a decrease of more than 50 percent. 

Baseball is and always will be America's pastime, but the question remains, why are these games becoming less and less popular?

One theory, specifically in baseball, is that the leagues push them too hard and try to make them more than what they are.  After the debacle of the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee, Bud Selig made the decision to have the All-Star Game mean something.

At this point, ratings had already been dropping, and having a baseball game end in a tie almost seemed sacrilegious. 

The commissioner announced that the team that winning league of the All-Star Game would have home-field advantage in the World Series.  This practice is just wrong at its core.  Having the result of and exhibition game impact a meaningful game is irresponsible and wrong. 

But I digress. 

Here are a list of the policies and rules that make All-Star Games uninteresting:

1) Every team must be represented in the All-Star Game (MLB)

That's all warm and fuzzy, but do the Kansas City Royals or Oakland Raiders really deserve to be represented?

2) Players, coaches, and fans get an equal vote (NFL)

Let's be honest, the game is put on for the entertainment of fans.  Whether or not ballot boxes are stuffed is irrelevant.  The fans who will take the time out to watch the game are the ones who stuff the ballots anyway.

3) The winning league of the All-Star Game receives home-field advantage in the World Series (MLB)

See above explanation.

4) Not holding the All-Star Game during Olympic years (NHL)

This is one I just don't get.  The NHL and the IOC are two separate entities.  Why should the activities of one interfere with the activities of the other.  The least the league could do is move the date of the game so it doesn't interfere with the Olympics.

5) Playing players for only two innings (MLB)

This isn't a rule as much as it is an annoying custom.  Imagine if Pete Rose had only played the first two innings in the 1970 All-Star Game.  The world would have been robbed of one of the most self-less plays in baseball history.

Sporting leagues need to reexamine what an All-Star game is.  It is an exhibition first and foremost.  Secondly, it is a chance for the game to be played for the sake of the game.  No rivalries, no personal grudges, just the game. 

Finally, the games are supposed to be for fun.  Nothing should be determined by their outcome.