By Jason Menard
Have you ever been to a restaurant and had the experience of ordering an entrée that completely and utterly overwhelmed the following course? You know those meals – where the gustatory promise created by the appetizer is left unfulfilled by a less-than-inspired main course.
That’s what all-star games are like — a dynamic, tapas-esque appetizer followed by a bland, stale, and hard-to-swallow main service.
What is it that makes those appetizers so, well, appetizing? By design, those entrees are quick, colourful, and vibrant. Because they have to make an impression in just a couple of bites, they are decadently crafted works of culinary art. By comparison, a main course can get bogged down in its own sense of self-importance. The gravitas of its composition can, ironically, leave one less-than-overwhelmed by the experience.
Yet you’ll remember that appetizer – light, flavourful, enjoyable, fun.
Think about what you remember from your last few all-star games. How many of the highlights have come from the game itself, and how much of what leaves a lasting impression comes from the so-called ancillary aspects of the festivities?
Do you remember who scored the 12 th goal in a 15-14 hockey game that featured no checking, no passion, and no defense? Or do you remember being blown away by Al Iafrate’s 105-plus mile per hour howitzer blast from the skills competition?
The only memorable moment from a baseball all-star game (with all apologies to Ray Fosse who may just be now coming out of that Pete Rose-induced fog caused by a 1970 overzealous play at the plate) came in 2002 when Bud Selig made the ill-advised decision to leave the game a tie. However, the home run competition continues to thrill, despite its inherent cheesiness.
Basketball? It’s all about the dunk competition and the three-point shootout? Jordan became Jordan with that leap from the foul line – and ABA dunk contests featuring Dr. J are still talked about in reverential tones.
Heck, even the anthems are more memorable than the games themselves. And if you don’t believe me, search on-line for a copy of Marvin Gaye singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game – if you’re not clapping along with the fans and bouncing with the players, then you are serious deficient in funkiness.
The simple fact of the matter is that these Battle of the Network Stars-style competitions are more engaging to the fans than any so-called game could ever be. Players don’t put out the maximum effort in fake games and fans know it. Even artificial incentives like giving home field advantage in the championships to the league that wins the All-Star Game can’t foster passion in a passionless game. The players are going through the motions, so instead of seeing the best of the sport we’re seeing a mockery of the games we love.
But individual competitions offer an opportunity for the league to showcase the players’ respective skills. They afford the broadcasters a chance to place microphones and cameras on players that they couldn’t do in a regular game. Essentially, they allow fans to get right on the ice with the stars.
And that’s marketing gold for any sport. If you can get to know the player, if you can be entertained by them, then you – as a fan – are more likely to get engaged in the sport. A fan can be created with one positive interaction, so if you’re able to showcase the personalities in your sport then you stand a chance of solidifying your fan base.
The other thing that’s important to note is that players try in these competitions because it’s one on one. Athletes at this level love to compete, whether it’s on the ice, playing pool, or even with cards and video games. So by making this a mano-e-mano event, you’re appealing to the base-level competitiveness these athletes possess. When it’s their name on the line, they want to win at all costs – which improves the quality of your presentation.
After all, the point of All Star celebrations is to showcase the best the league has to offer. A passion-filled individual competition is far more palatable than yet another bland, emotionless impersonation of a game. That type of contest is tough to swallow and will have fans calling for the cheque early.
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