TicketManager | Let the (All-Star) Games End

The volume of commentary expressing disappointment with the NBA All-Star Game from sports media pundits, business execs, fans on social media and other observers this week has mirrored the outrageous number of points scored in the much-maligned event. (A three-pointer away from 400 this year, but who’s counting.)

So far, the league remains committed to the game, even if commissioner Adam Silver himself appears to be over it, as this ESPN piece noted. It’s surprising that the NBA has hung on to the game for this long in the face of near universal dislike—95 percent of respondents declared the game boring in a reader poll by The Athletic on Monday—seeing that the league pioneered making All-Star events compelling.

The NBA long ago turned a single all-star game into a multi-day, must see/attend festival of the sport. The other components of NBA All-Star weekend continue to work, some brilliantly. It is the game that is the problem, ending the festivities with a thud as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps said.

Despite the commissioner, Larry Bird and other luminaries urging them to take a different approach, the league’s best players have stated loudly and clearly that they will not play hard in a game with no stakes. Whatever you think about that, it is their prerogative. And, as others have pointed out this week, it makes the game unfixable.

While some of the underlying reasons were different, the NFL faced a similar issue with its Pro Bowl Game. What did it do? It took a page from the NBA in adding a series of skills events over multiple days beginning last year, but most importantly its Pro Bowl Games format culminates in a flag football game, rather than a traditional one.

Although the jury may still be out on how well that solution has addressed the problem, most would agree the new format is an improvement over the old. With nowhere to go but up in terms of the NBA’s All-Star Game, the league would be wise to do what the NFL did and replace a non-competitive contest with an alternative, non-traditional event.

Television ratings for the weekend are not what they once were. Sunday’s game had the second-lowest viewership of all time. While the audience for State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on TNT—which featured a historic three-point challenge between superstars Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu—was up 31 percent from last year’s low, it remained below pre-pandemic figures.

Given those struggles to grow the audience on traditional platforms, and reflecting real players reluctance to participate, maybe the replacement event should aim for a new audience, go full-on Web3 and take place virtually in the metaverse. Or take what worked this year—pairing an NBA and a WNBA player—and promote more cross-league competition, either IRL or with avatars.

Love or hate those concepts, the point is that the sky is the limit in terms of what is available to the NBA when conceiving ideas for an all-star replacement event.

As with flag football, there is no perfect solution at hand. But perfection isn’t required for a league that still has tons of fan, corporate and media support. The NBA has little to lose and plenty to gain by experimenting with innovative alternatives to an All-Star game nobody really wants.