All-star games hit all-time lows

Matt Nicholson, Lead Sports Editor

Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Perhaps the three most exciting players currently in the National Basketball Association. It seems impossible that any game featuring the best athletes in the sport could not possibly compete in an exhilarating contest, yet all-star games continue to disappoint year after year. Major professional sports leagues are facing a crisis — interest has been declining steadily and the sentiment is reflected in the attitudes of both players and fans towards all-star games. Once celebrated events nationwide, these exhibitions lack the excitement to draw the audiences they once did.

While conventional thought would say that any contest featuring the best players in the sport, all-star games as of late have failed to live up to their lofty expectations. Before this modern age of interconnectedness and instantaneous information, seeing an out-of-market player compete was a rarity and spectators typically received their news from newspaper articles a day later. But with the rise of premium packages, such as NFL Sunday Ticket and NHL Center Ice, from TV providers this once infrequent event has become increasingly commonplace. Today, news breaks almost instantaneously. While in years past, a fan watching a local game would have only heard about Odell Beckham Jr.’s phenomenal one-handed catch against Dallas, the catch was plastered all over social media in mere seconds. The culture of constant exposure to the media has made stars much more ordinary. Access to out-of-market players is no longer scarce and as such there simply is no need to have a an all-star game.

This year, the NHL all-star game had its lowest ratings in eight years, drawing fewer view than last week’s episode of The Bachelor. The Pro Bowl faced a similar problem, dropping 1.1 million viewers as compared to last year. In addition to being broadcast on ESPN instead of a major network, the rating reflected the declining sentiment from both viewers and athletes alike. Both the NFL and NHL have made attempts to resolve this crisis of indifference, seen through a change in format to teams that are picked from the all-stars, instead of the traditional method of conference playing against conference. Still, players lack the motivation to risk their bodies and their multimillion dollar contracts to exert any reasonable effort in what is essentially an exhibition game. This year’s NHL all-star game ended in a ridiculous 17-12 win for Team Toews over Team Foligno, a score unheard of in any competitive hockey game. No fan wants to waste their time watching the best players in the world dogging it, when they could instead find more drama catching up with Chris Harrison and everyone in the Bachelor Mansion.

Despite failing overall to meet fan’s expectations, a favorite event of each sports’ respective all-star weekends are always the skills competitions. Some of the most memorable moments in all of sports come from the Slam Dunk Contest (Does the name Michael Jordan ring any bells?). In these competitions athletes are free to give their all without much risk of injury, making for better entertainment. While all-star games are typically high scoring affairs, they are anything but competitive — last year’s NBA all-star game featured 318 points and absolutely zero defense. Given the current sentiment of both players and viewers, the major professional sports leagues should eliminate all-star games in favor more specialized skill competitions, while still honoring the accomplishment of the athletes.

In today’s world of sports, all-star games are more ceremonial than substantial. For athletes, the motivation does not exist to exert themselves in what is largely a meaningless game. Rather than continue to push what is a dying institution, all-star games should be discontinued in favor a lower stakes, more fan-friendly series of skills competitions to showcase the talent that got them there in the first place.