Is The All-Star Game An American Treasure Or A Waste Of Time?

SJ_ASGThis past week,  MLS announced that the 2016 edition of its All-Star Game will be held in San Jose, California at the newly created Avaya Stadium, showcasing the latest and greatest stadium amenities in the league.   In addition to the news surrounding the upcoming 2015 game against the Barclays Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur, this announcement raises the often unanswered question: Are all-star games worth it?

All-Star games have mainly been a construction of American (and sometimes Canadian) sports for over 75 years with roots in baseball that spread to virtually all other team sports. According to History Channel, the first ever MLB All-Star Game took place in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair, ironically billed as a one time event to boost spirits during the Great Depression. Instead, it became a yearly ritual and a consistently questioned concept.  The first ever football Pro Bowl took place before the NFL’s existence in 1939 in Los Angeles between Pro All-Stars and the NY Giants.  The first NHL All-Star Game took place in 1947 in Toronto after 3 charity events featuring All-Star teams from 1934-1939, and the first NBA edition took place in Boston in 1951.   Over time, each of these events have not only turned into spectacles for fans, but marketing and broadcasting gold.

Other than being an excuse for advertisements and increasing revenue, all-star games hold little significance in terms of competition.  In most cases, the winning team wins nothing more than bragging rights,  and all selected players win the honor of recognition for their talents.  After the technology boom, fans won more control over proceedings by earning the right to vote online for the players they believe should be in these games. The real challenge for leagues becomes making the game a must-see event, or all sponsorships and broadcasting deals go to waste.

When it comes to making all-star games matter from a marketing standpoint, MLS might actually be at an advantage compared to other sports leagues in the USA.  MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL all have a common theme: they attract the world’s best talent, with few challenges to their authority.  As a result, your typical East vs. West game pitting league’s best vs. league’s best is considered a display of the sport’s finest athletes playing against each other in one big, friendly, heavily sponsored event.   In contrast, MLS does not (and apparently recognizes that it does not) attract the world’s best talent.  With that in mind, an East vs. West game suddenly becomes a sad event featuring some moderately skilled soccer players playing each other in a meaningless game where the points don’t matter. For better or for worse, MLS might be the only major American sports league with the ability to consider foreign clubs as legitimate competition for the league’s finest athletes.

MLS started inviting foreign clubs to play against the league’s best in 2003 with Mexico’s CD Chivas Guadalajara, and has kept this practice in place since 2005.  The sell-out crowds at these events and the AT&T shirt sponsorships (seen below) are a sign of the success.  Games are nationally televised, and for the most part the league gets a positive image from its tendency to win against world powers (The MLS All-Stars are 7-3-1 since 2003 against foreign opponents).


These foreign teams bring a new element to the game unseen in other sports.  The MLS All-Star Game isn’t just another display of the world’s best talent facing off.  In fact, it may feature some mediocre talent compared to the elite teams in this world.  Instead, the MLS All-Star Game serves as a yearly advertisement of the league’s growing legitimacy in a competitive global landscape.

REFERENCES (Photo: Jennifer Kesgard)