NHL Outdoor All Star Game: Why Not?

Dennis JeantetCorrespondent IApril 1, 2008

I know it's time to be talking playoffs, but I would like to take some time to discuss an important issue of the recent past, the NHL All Star Game. 

To say the ratings and excitement for this annual event has been minimal would be a huge understatement.

Let me show you the TV ratings for the past seven All Star Games by approximate number of households viewing the event and how much this has either gone up or down compared to the prior year.

'08  - 796,717  +18%

'07  - 474,298  -76.1%

'06  No game due to the '06 Winter Olympics

'05  No game due to the lockout

'04  - 1,985,000  +6.5%

'03  - 1,864,000  +0.1%

'02  - 1,863,000  +9.6%

'01  - 1,700,000   -36.6%

'00  - 2,681,000  +20.8%

Compare these numbers to the recent NBA All Star Game, which had about five million viewers. Versus is available in 74 million homes. So only 1.1% of people with Versus are watching the All-Star game? That's pathetic.

What is the NHL doing wrong? What could they do better?  Here's my take.

I'm a fan of the All Star Game, and especially the skills competition, but let's face it, it's just not exciting anymore.

Players clearly don't seem to care, and they lie through their teeth when asked about the weekend.  It seems like every player has the same answer, "I'm just excited to be here, playing with such talent," or a variation of this.

Aside from Rick Dipietro and Manny Legace making in-game comments while mic'd up, the entire weekend was a snooze fest.

They changed my favorite event, the fastest skater. Now the two players merely sprint half the length of the ice.  Is that a joke? They claim it's too dangerous for playing to cut the corners, yet I have never seen a player get hurt during that competition.

Remember Sergei Fedorov racing Mike Gartner around the rink? It made me stand up and mimic their strides with head bob's as they came close to the finish line.

Remember Ray Bourque fist pumping on his knees when he went four for four on the accuracy targets? And Jeremy Roenick always gave the camera a good show and always had funny things to say.

I could go on and on about the "good days" of the All Star Weekend, but those days are gone.

Players today are clearly bothered by spending a weekend of their time at the event.  The NHL is actually thinking of scrapping the whole event.  I doubt this will ever happen, but it's scary to think things are that bad.

The NHL tried introducing new events such as the breakaway contest, where players would be rated by judges for creativity.  It failed miserably.

No offense to Dominique Wilkins, but what does he know about hockey and the skill involved? That was just a slap in the face to me.

Alex Ovechkin was obviously the only player with a sense of humor, as he at least attempted to throw the puck up in the air and do a couple spins.  Most tried simple breakaway moves I could do in my sleep.

Even goalies were trying to poke check the puck away before the player could try something. Now call me crazy, but this particular event was for the shooters to be creative. Why would a goalie spoil that?

Tomas Kaberle went four for four on the accuracy targets and skated away like it was no big deal, hardly a smile.  He just joined a small group of players that have done so, yet he was not even excited.

Enough about the skills competition. The All Star Game itself was even more boring.

Please try some fancy moves, between the legs, spins.  It was worse than a regular season game between two teams out of the playoffs. 

Now, let me switch from the All-Star weekend to something much more positive: The NHL Winter Classic in January.

TV ratings for the game were around 1,984,500 people.  That's more than Gretzky's final game in 1999, which was viewed by 1,837,500.

That's a success. Sidney Crosby, plus outdoors, plus snow equals excitement.

It was on at the right time, on the right day, and although a slow-moving and low-scoring game, it was simply special to watch. 

There are rumors floating around about the next outdoor game being held at Yankee Stadium, so this year is most likely out.

But why not hold a future All Star Weekend outdoors? Seems to me like a good recipe for massive ratings, which the NHL desperately needs to move ahead.

The weather will still be cold in February.  If an outdoor game in the regular season can draw nearly two million viewers, imagine the ratings of an outdoor All Star game that showcases the league's best players on the ice at once.


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