In recent seasons, it has become more apparent that All-Star Games and weekends for professional leagues are beginning to feel less like a fun event and more of a chore. Although it serves as a break for players and their families, the pause does come with some questions. To discuss whether or not All-Star games should be played at the end of the season or remain in the middle of the season, our writers Sam Zelin and Katherine Sheridan weigh the options.
After a dismal NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, there is no question that the NBA All-Star game should be moved to the end of the season. Similarly to the MLB, the NBA’s All-Star weekend is only contrived of a few skills’ competition, a rising stars game and the All-Star game at the end of the weekend in the middle of season. The NFL is the only league to have an All-Star outing at the end of the season, and even that should be in question. While the Pro Bowl is great for fans to see all of their favorite players in one jersey, it hinders the momentum of teams still in the playoffs. Translating that argument to the basketball world, the NBA should consider moving the All-Star game and overall weekend to the end of the season for a number of reasons. First, it would generate more fan engagement even after the playoffs are over. This would also be a nice transition into Summer League. This would also make All-Star voting much more equitable as fans would be basing their choices off an entire season’s worth of play and in return, hopefully, reduce the overall “snubs” players receive year in and year out. If you were to consider an athlete, any chance to reduce the risk of injury during the season is always a win. Electing to push the All-Star weekend back would allow players to focus on the games at hand and not worry about the potential chance of an injury during a somewhat meaningless event. While the NBA has made changes to the format of the All-Star game, with prize money on the line now, overall viewership still shows there is a lack of interest. It has been recorded by TNT and TBS that this last All-Star Weekend had a 3.1 rating and a viewership of 5.94 million viewers compared to the 2010s where each year was notching upwards of 7 million viewers (see link below).
Mid-season All-Star festivities, whether in the NBA or MLB, serve a purpose. For sure, the competitive integrity of the contests is not prioritized, but that really isn’t the goal. Both the NBA and MLB have long, drawn out seasons, and giving both players and fans a bit of a break from serious competition is positive. As for fan engagement, the NFL is an example of why an end-of-season All-Star event doesn’t work. According to statista.com, the most watched NFL Pro Bowl since 2000 was in 2011, when 13.4 million fans tuned in. For contrast, the Super Bowl that occurred a week later brought in an average of 111 million viewers, according to the Guardian. Championships are going to bring in more fan engagement than an event which, in the end, means little to nothing in comparison; putting the two next to each other, whether the order is All-Star and then championship or vice versa, doesn’t seem to make much sense. Instead of putting an All-Star event in a position to compete with the hype surrounding the postseason of the league, giving it some space to shine on its own in the mid-season, where all it would be compared to is regular season games, makes more sense. The other thing is that moving the timing of festivities will not necessarily change the event itself. If an event isn’t entertaining, it’s not going to be entertaining at any point of the year. Because of this, the bottom line is that it can always serve as is a break for the players, who have to deal with an arduously lengthy season. Breaks make the most sense in the middle, as by the time they’re at the end, they might as well just wait for the offseason.
While the professional leagues have a grueling schedule, having a break right in the middle of the action can be the worst of all. Momentum that teams have been building before heading into the All-Star break is brought to a halt and can have a great effect on the team, as they now have to regain their groove and make their case for a playoff run. The Boston Celtics are a team who may feel the effects of this pause. Per NBA.com, the Celtics have logged their winningest February in more than 40 years, with a 9-2 record and a margin of victory of 19 points in each contest. This is the product of consistency, as the Celtics found themselves having to climb out of a hole one too many times just a month prior. To expand on the point regarding the congested postseason that may come from moving the All-Star game, there is a quick fix: allow for the playoffs to run as usual. If the “play-in” tournament ever becomes more than a suggestion, this should be considered a priority. After the winners of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals are decided, voting should open for all the players who did not make it to the final contest. Fans can then start selecting who they would like to see in an All-Star match up. Then, the Finals will also go on as scheduled; only after the Finals have concluded with a celebratory parade, an All-Star weekend should then be played. When late June rolls around, fans would now have another chance to watch their favorite players kick off summer ball. Not only would it maintain engagement, but it would allow for the players themselves to maintain their fitness and overall health as they prepare for summer league.
The momentum point is certainly valid, as across multiple sports All-Star breaks have been known to affect performance both positively and negatively, both team-wide and individually. However, couldn’t that then serve as a separator between teams on a hot streak and legitimate title contenders? Come playoff time, consistency usually wins out over the streaky team, unless the latter can stay hot throughout the postseason. As for using the NBA’s All-Star weekend as a kickoff to the Summer League, this definitely could make sense, as some of the fans who don’t watch Summer League might be more drawn to it. But from a player’s perspective, it seems like it would be dragging the previous season out. Between free agency and other offseason transactions, alongside other matters players and teams might need to deal with, cutting into the offseason seems a bit risky. While the same amount of time would be lost, for any team that didn’t make it in the Finals the offseason would have already started. Once a team gets eliminated, preparations for the next season begin; asking a bunch of players to reconvene for a purpose related to a season already over has some continuity issues. Sticking with the mid-season All-Star event, however, would keep all current season affairs within that current season. Also, while mid-season All-Star breaks can serve as the aforementioned separator of streaky teams and legitimate title threats, it can also be a way to celebrate players who have successful first halves that won’t necessarily get any awards at the end of the season. While yes, there will always be snubs, whether in All-Star selection or in end-of-season awards, having mid-season awards expands the amount of players that might be in a position to get an award. Even if they’re more arbitrary ones, they can increase the visibility of certain players, especially ones who won’t get the recognition from being on teams that make deep playoff runs. In the end, spreading out special events leads to more engagement, but each season should be self-contained, so that start and end lines don’t get blurred.