Revamping All-Star Games: a lesson from Russia

This weekend is the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.  Tonight is the young stars and skills competition and tomorrow [Sunday] is the actual game itself.  In a couple of weeks [8 February] the NFL will play its all-star game — the Pro Bowl.  A week later, Phoenix will host the NBA’s annual all-star extravaganza.


Personally, I have not watched an all-star game in its entirety in…well, ever.  I probably watch at least some of the baseball all-star game every now and then.  I do not think that I have ever watched an NBA all-star game and have rarely caught any part of the Pro Bowl or the NHL all-star game.  There is really no interest.  Even when I have players that I like in those games, I still do not watch.  There is no appeal — nothing special.

But what are all-star games?  They are essentially gimmicks.  So why not make them more gimmicky?  You could let players play out of position from time to time.  Imagine allowing Kevin Mawae lining up under center or Ray Lewis in the backfield.  Perhaps Ichiro can pitch an inning or Sidney Crosby can be in net.  Basketball?  Well…  does not work as well.  BUT, players could easily get hurt [Ichiro throws out his arm, for example] and Crosby might not like the idea of being in net.  Maybe tweaking the rules a bit.  The NHL’s YoungStars game is a 3-on-3 competition with a running clock and no face-offs after the beginning of the period.  While 3-on-3 is a bit much, why not do that with 5-on-5 for the all-star game?  Or basketball can have “line shifts” and a continuous play; perhaps borrowing a bit from soccer and allowing the players to just get an out-of-bounds ball and throw it back in.  But perhaps that is too gimmicky.  The one thing that was tried before and I thought was an interesting twist was what the NHL did a few years ago — the two all-star teams were set-up by country.  It was North America versus the World and an interesting set-up that had teammates going against one another.  It could work in other sports, with football perhaps doing it by states — East versus West or North versus South.  Or maybe an NBA all-star team taking on a European all-star team [similar to the MLS all-star v. Premier team format with Major League Soccer].  However, both baseball and football seems to have more conference/league loyalty than hockey and basketball [geographic].

Perhaps a lesson can be learned from the Russian hockey league — Kontinental Hockey League.  On 10 January, the KHL played their all-star game outdoors in Moscow at Red Square.  It also utilized the all-star by country format, in this case Russia versus the World.  While the turnout was unspectacular, this is something that could work well in North America.

Obviously this applies to the NHL and NBA as the other two sports — NFL and MLB — already play outdoors at most of its facilities.  The NHL has hosted three different outdoor games during the regular season — 2003 game at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium [Oilers v. Canadiens], the 2008 Winter Classic at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium [Sabres v. Penguins], and this year’s Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago [Blackhawks v. Red Wings].  All three were tremendously successful for the NHL however they league will eventually run out of new places to host its now annual event.  And the NBA just recently held an exhibition game between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets outdoors in Indian Wells, California.  So both leagues are willing to hold a game outside.  So why not apply this to the all-star game in order to spark interest?

Now, obviously this idea would be geographically restrictive.  Attempting to hold an outdoor hockey game in Tampa or Dallas makes about as much sense as holding an outdoor basketball game in New York City or Chicago —  especially in February!  But there is nothing wrong with that restriction.  Keep in mind that the Super Bowl is generally held in warm weather climates, with the exception of dome games in Detroit or Minnesota.  So this could work.  And while many NBA players did not likely play much on the streets, it is likely that many NHL players have played on “real” frozen ponds.  So returning to an outdoor game is likely something that the players can appreciate and enjoy.  Plus, if there happens to be a snowstorm [like the 2008 NHL Winter Classic] or a stiff wind to throw off the projectory of three-pointers, then the game becomes all the more intriguing.  And again, just the novelty of this type of game coupled with the best players in their respective sports would add to the novelty of it…at least for a few years.

This will not likely happen.  There were some that complained about the wind and the temperature in the outdoor basketball game.  And I am sure cities like Atlanta or Phoenix would complain about not being able to feasibly host an outdoor hockey game.  But it is an interesting concept that the NHL and NBA can learn from our comrades.

As for the Pro Bowl and MLB’s all-star game?  Well, I think baseball’s mid-summer classic draws well on its own.  The Pro Bowl?  Not even the players themself seem to care to play in that one so why even have it!

One thought on “Revamping All-Star Games: a lesson from Russia

  1. I think most would agree that it’s time to change the all-star formats. I really like the proposed change in the NBA, there are numerous outdoor, “runs”, courts that have historical significance. There are great stories about NBA greats showing up at Rucker Park, G.O.A.T Park, Venice Beach, and Cloverdale. I disagree with the comment that most NBA players didn’t play in the streets, though the Sonny Vacarro ushered AAU era has diminished it, many NBA players talk about the public parks where they refined their game. Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Kevin Garnett, and Sean Livingston are a few that have gone back and revamped the blacktops they frequented as youths. (Maybe some of these courts could host the All-Star Game) I like the idea not only from a cool factor standpoint, but I think the NBA has gotten a little distanced from it’s urban fan base who can’t afford $50 worst-seat-in-the-house tickets, then again that’s why we have the all star format we have now…ticket sales. Often we hear the disdain for all-star games, but rarely the alternatives…Great post.

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