Friday, January 23, 2009

Fixing the All-Star Game: Go-for-broke edition

1) Move it to the preseason

I can't claim this as an original idea, but it's so obvious that it deserves to be at the top of every list until the change is made.

Since the purpose of the All-Star Game is to generate media hype, let's play the game at a time when it will have the most media impact. The Winter Classic has fulfilled the need for a mid-season hypefest, and the second half of the season sells itself. The biggest "hole" left in the schedule is late summer: after the draft, before the preseason, and during a lull that features no major sports-world distractions.

A preseason date would do more than simply fill a gap in the NHL's media cycle. It would also allow the league to shorten the length of the season by a week, thereby awarding the Cup in late May and avoiding direct competition with the NBA Finals. Furthermore the game would feature a healthier, higher-quality roster and might even draw a bigger audience to the host city -- who takes a vacation in late January?

2) Populism > Elitism

This year's fan-voting travesty revealed an interesting phenomenon: the fans would rather see their favorite players than see the best players in action. While no-one would disparage Dan Boyle's worthiness, the majority of the viewing public would much rather see Jeremy Roenick represent the Sharks.

So, make a simple change: adjust the expectations for All-Star selection. Don't pretend that it's about selecting the league's elite -- frankly, a lot of elite players are boring. Let's make this a showcase of the league's most popular personalities.

The beauty of this is that you can actually increase the weight of fan ballotting under this system, without sacrificing legitimacy. Have a "Favorite player" vote in each city, with 100% fan voting, to select 15 players. Give the final 5 votes to the coach or media. Simple, entertaining, legitimate. What else could you ask for?

3) Fight Club

Ok, so this wouldn't happen in a million years. But then again, the idea of a popular All-Star Game is fantasy anyway, so let's go for broke. Summon your inner Don King for a moment and imagine the massive "casual" audience that would be drawn to the NHL if the weekend included a Heavyweight Championship Tournament.

The process would be simple - let the players cast votes to select the top 8 fighters in the league. During the day of the Skills Competiton, hold a quarter-finals round (4 fights). During the first intermission of the All-Star Game, hold two semi-final matches -- one at each end of the ice, maybe even simultaneously. During the second intermission, let the two finalists duke it out at center ice for the title belt. Use professional boxing judges to score each fight according to punches-landed and takedowns. Watch and listen as the fans lose their minds with bloodlust and scalpers draw double the usual ticket prices.

I know what you're thinking: "No coach in his right mind would allow a player to fight three times in two days against elite heavyweights". Well, screw the coaches. Offer a $1 million purse and leave it up to the players whether to participate. Give 'em softer, tighter helmets to protect both fists and noggin. Require thick mouthguards and D.Q. anyone who resorts to cheapshots.

The All-Star Game is, at its heart, all about exposing superstars to unnecessary risk in order to create an artificial spectacle for the fans and media. The NHL is, at its heart, all about exploiting violence and testosterone in order to create a 60-minute adrenaline rush for its viewing audience. What better marriage of purposes than to reward pugilistic superstars on the game's biggest stage? It's time for the league to stop apologizing for its product and just sell the damn thing.

Bonus Suggestion: More importantly than any of the other items, it's high time for the league to resume the long-lost tradition of playing each game for a specific charitable cause. For one day a year, let's stop acting like the result of a silly game actually matters, and put the All-Stars to work to make the world a better place. It would not only promote the game in non-hockey circles, but legitimize what is otherwise the least-legitimate event in the sport.

Any other ideas? Put 'em in the comments section.

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1 comment:

dave said...

Have it in Vegas, and NEVER move a franchise there.