The Ratings Are Fine, So is the All-Star Game Fine, Too?
January 31, 2012 7 Comments
I watched about 95% of the National Hockey League’s All-Star weekend up in Ottawa over the past four days. I tuned into the Fantasy Draft, the Skills Competition, the game itself, and stuck around for a bit of NHL Network’s media day coverage, and NBCSp’s episode of NHL Overtime that came after Harvard-Yale on Friday night. I kept watching and kept watching and didn’t question the fact that I was watching. I love hockey, I don’t care about basketball, there was no football or baseball that weekend, what else was I going to do? I watched the hockey-related programming that was available to me. Was it perfect? No. But it didn’t make me turn away from what was going on.
Does the fact that I wasn’t alone in this group of activities justify this much-maligned weekend? Does that turn it into an unfairly-maligned weekend? Or are we all really just hockey and NHL junkies, waiting, craving for our next fix?
More than two million people across North America tuned in to the All-Star Fantasy Draft. The full numbers aren’t in yet, but based on last year’s equivalent, more than four million people across the continent likely tuned in to both Saturday night’s Skills Competition and Sunday afternoon’s All-Star Game. This will be the same as last year in America, and up to record-setting levels in Canada, above even the game held in Montreal in 2009 in both countries. Now, the system of measuring viewership is different in Canada now and has provided both CBC and TSN with records seemingly every year at some point, but the question is still worth asking.
Is the All-Star Game just okay? Does it take too much heat for not having enough “importance” and not really meaning anything, when all people really want out of it is a fun little break from the intense NHL regular season? Just a chance to see all their favorite players (who aren’t concussed) interact with each other and have fun for a weekend? The ratings, and the fan interest in the markets where the game is held, seemed to indicate a very emphatic “Yes” to all of the above.
The fact is, while there is very little covering up the fact that All-Star weekend is a chance for the league to hobnob with it’s corporate partners, it seems to make everyone happy. It makes the cities they’re hosted in a lot of money, with Columbus already projecting $12 million for next year’s game. As mentioned previously, the TV ratings are good, especially when considering NBC Sports Network/VERSUS has yet to draw 1 million viewers for a meaningful regular season game, and that CBC is setting all time records considering the game has been held in Canada’s two biggest hockey markets (Montreal and Toronto) in the past 12 years. The fans at the game and the experience seem to be having a blast, and the players seem to finally be coming around to the event as well.
The All-Star Game clearly has it’s supporters. While some have pitched improvements – some have wondered why they don’t play it outdoors, Glenn Healy suggested playing it in Europe – why bother, if the numbers prove that fans are engaged with it? Coming out of the lockout, the ratings were bad for numerous reasons: after skipping one year, they held it on a Wednesday night in Dallas, then a year later went to Atlanta, and numbers went up a little. They went up a little more in Montreal, before it departed for a year and came back to 22% improvements, which were stable this year. Perhaps the lockout was just another part of hockey that people needed to discover in a post-lockout world. It wasn’t giving a real shot to succeed the first couple of years, but is finally finding itself.
So forget doing Europe (why take the revenue away from the other cities you could host the game in?) or outdoors (why potentially ruin two of the league’s biggest cash cows?), maybe the NHL All-Star Game just needs to be kept the way it is. It isn’t perfect, and the game means nothing and features subpar hockey. For whatever reason, however, people seem to like it, and in greater numbers each year. That’s something the league can’t ignore, and it is something that the ever-critical internet’s worth of hockey fans constantly slagging it cant ignore either.