The NHL All-Star Weekend; A chance for the league to showcase its top talents to a national market. It is crucial in maintaining and growing the popularity of not only the NHL but hockey as a sport. However, in its current format, the All-Star Game is neglecting its duties to fans and to the league.
Last season, ESPN and ABC took on NHL hockey for the first time since 2004. This boosted playoff viewership by 58% from the previous year. However, ratings of the All-Star Game were near an all-time low. In the very early 2000s, an average of 2.6 million fans tuned in, more than double the 1.15 million who watched last year.
In the mid-2000s, viewership was also quite low, mostly due to the fact that the game was on NBCSN (at that time called “Versus”). Viewership jumped sharply when regular NBC took over the broadcast in 2017 but since then, has declined consistently.
This is obviously not a network problem. ESPN is arguably the most recognizable sports network on earth, and ABC is easily accessible to the vast majority of sports fans in the United States. This is evident by the fact that last year’s skills competition garnered 30% more viewers than the season prior on NBC.
Complication and Participation
The problem stems from two roots; the format of the game and the format of the roster creation. First, the “game” is far too complex. In 2017, the NHL switched from a single, 60-minute West vs East game to a 2-round knockout tournament with four teams representing the four NHL divisions, each matchup consisting of two 10-minute halves of 3 on 3.
3 on 3 is no doubt exciting, especially when you have some of the best players in the league on the ice. However, the format is more complicated to a fault. It requires much more dedication for the average sports fan to consume an All-Star tournament in its entirety than a regularly formatted hockey game played between two stacked All-Star teams.
The other problem is the way that players are selected. To begin the process in 2023, the NHL selected one player from each of the 32 teams. The remaining 12 players, 3 from each division, are voted on by fans in official polls and (starting this season) Twitter hashtag volume.
Not only does the newest voting process feel very gimmicky, but the continuation of having each team represented with at least one player for the All-Star festivities is out of tune with the concept of an “All-Star” game. It’s “All-Star”, not “All-Teams”. Last season, amidst a career year for Nazem Kadri with the Colorado Avalanche, fans had to last-minute-vote him in, simply because there were too many other good players on his team.
Nathan Mackinnon was quoted as saying “It’s silly. I don’t think every team should send a guy”, along with, “It’s an All-Star Game, not a participation game.” Spot on Nate. Teams should not be rewarded for being mediocre. Want representation at the All-Star game? Go out and get an All-Star player.
All of this is damaging the league’s reputation and ability to grow. The NHL should make it easier, not harder, for fans to digest a full All-Star Weekend, especially with it available on ESPN and ABC. And what if we decided to include all of the stars in All-Star festivities?
Teams like the Lightning, Avalanche, and Oilers have a greater amount of All-Star players than teams like the Blackhawks, Coyotes, and Sharks. This is simply fact. Unless the NHL changes its ways, either coming up with a new and better system or reverting back to the glory days, the status of the game and the status of the league will continue to stagnate.
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