All-Star games need 3Rs: review, revamp and reestablishment

The NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl need upgrades and here are some recommendations for the commissioners.

by Howard Robertson and Larry Robinson | 2/28/2015, 3:16 p.m.
The NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl need upgrades and here are some recommendations for the commissioners.

Back in the day, University of Memphis students and fans started their home court harassment of opposing basketball teams during team introductions. The entire student section would open newspapers in front of their faces, then each time an opposing player’s name was introduced they’d express their disinterest in perfect unison by yelling “Who cares” or “Big deal” or “Go home.”

We believe those are the same sentiments that many NBA and NFL fans currently have about the NBA All-Star and the NFL Pro Bowl games. It’s definitely time for a serious review of these games’ relevance and appeal as well as some revamping.

Frequently on “A Little R&R on Sports” the co-hosts take two different and distinctive paths to arrive at the same conclusion. It happened again with the recent NBA All Star game. While Larry was in Manhattan taking it all in live, Howard was checking it out in south Memphis on the couch in the den with his 87-year-old mother. Two far different vantage points yielded the same consistent conclusion. That conclusion is (cue Sam Cooke) “…but I knooow, a change gotta come, oh yes it will.”

First of all, we NBA fans need to realize we aren’t “all that and a bag of chips” in terms of sports viewership. Of the Top 50 Most Watched Sporting Events of 2014 there was not one single NBA game included. The Top 50 was almost literally all football. The list was overwhelmed by NFL games, one college football game and three FIFA World Cup matches. Plus, there were eight Olympics broadcasts. Excluding NFL and Olympics from the list, just five NBA Finals games show up.

The 2015 NBA All-Star game attracted 7.2 million viewers, a 4 percent drop from the 7.5 million viewers in 2014. Comparably in 2014, 15.3 million viewers watched the Kentucky Derby, 11.3 million watched the MLB All-Star Game and 10.9 million watched The Masters. So quantitatively, basketball’s best doesn’t even command as much audience as horseracing’s best, baseball’s best or golf’s best.

Regardless if you saw it from the den couch (like Howard) or from Madison Square Garden (like Larry), this game left much to be desired. Everybody knows the game is largely meaningless in terms of stats, standings and records. But don’t mail it in. As an All Star player, act like it means something if nothing more than pride and bragging rights. The game looked completely contrived and whenever the West would roll out to a big lead, they’d downshift their defense and rebounding long enough to allow the East to catch up and keep it interesting. The players showed out but they didn’t show up.

The NFL Pro Bowl has its’ problems too. The 5.6 household rating the 2015 game garnered was the lowest in 8 years and that was despite their efforts to fix it and make it more appealing to fans. The Pro Bowl should be the swan song of the NFL season as opposed to the Super Bowl. It would extend the season a couple more weeks before the pro football drought and dearth begins for millions of football junkies. It also gives the non Super Bowl players a more fitting and dignified transition into the off season after being summarily dismissed and the end of the season or in the playoffs. What’s up with this non-conferenced format? You’ve got AFC fans and NFC fans, NFC stars and AFC stars, so why should they be melded into innocuous, unrecognizable teams? Fans need distinguishable teams. Then, how seriously can fans take a game with celebrity captains? It’s an all-star game, not a reality show. Team Irvin (Michael) and Team Carter (Cris) ain’t happening.

Lastly, if the NBA and NFL are truly serious about revamping and reestablishing their all star products, then air them in primetime on one of the big four networks (NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX). ESPN, TNT and TBS are nice but there’s a reason major events are aired on major networks. So Mr. Silver and Mr. Goodell, if you’re serious about change here are some recommendations. If you’re not, just keep doing what you’re doing.

(“A Little R&R on Sports” podcasts can be downloaded from: IHeart Radio, ITunes, Google Play or randronsports.com. In Memphis, tune to AM 990 KWAM, 10 Saturday mornings or stream R&R live Saturdays 10 a.m. CDT on sportsbyline.com.)