I’m a little late to the party on this one, so I apologize for not chiming in earlier. I’m late because, as with most fans of the game of hockey, I pay no attention to the All-Star Game whatsoever. It’s not hockey, and it’s definitely not a “game.” It’s 40 guys pretending to care who wins while goofing around for 3 periods and playing inside jokes on one another. It was only when my wife asked me to find out what channel the game was on that I blew my stack.

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What is the All-Star Game? A popularity contest with ballot boxes stuffed by kids with unlimited texting plans on their cell phones determining who plays a game of shinny with referees, while the league is on a 5-day vacation. It doesn’t count in the standings, and it’s not *truly* representative of the best players in the league. So what is it?

It’s a revenue draw for the hosting team, as fans from across the continent swarm to the site to see their favorite players. It’s a break in the action, giving players some time to get ready for the 10-week sprint to the finish of the regular season. And it’s a way to get fans involved with the teams on a personal level, to display their enthusiasm for their favorite players.

But those are all minor considerations. The only true purpose it serves is as a 3-hour long advertisement for NHL hockey. And with advertising, placement is everything.

Let’s begin by seeing what else is on while the All-Star Game is being shown, shall we? CBS is airing the final round of the Farmer’s Insurance Open (PGA golf). ABC has NBA basketball, Chicago vs. Miami. ESPN has the Winter X Games, with ESPN2 showing Michigan State taking on Penn State in college basketball. Women’s college basketball.

Why is this important? Networks choose what to air, and to a certain degree when to air it, based on what else is happening at the same time. With sporting events it’s more difficult, since so many of those things are carried live. But even then, the schedule of the sporting events themselves is sometimes chosen based on the same factors. Why were all of the New Year’s Day bowl games on January 2nd this year? Because January 1st was a Sunday, and the NFL was playing.

So the X Games are on tape, ESPN can show them anytime. PGA Golf, that was a demographic calculation on the part of the network: with the NBA on ABC, would they get more viewers from golf, or an edited-for-television re-broadcast of, “Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest?” Women’s college basketball, that’s a contract obligation they’re getting out of the way at a time when they know that no matter what they put on the air it will get buried beneath all the other sporting events being broadcast. But the real piece of news here is what I’m not telling you.

The NHL television contract is with NBC. The channel formerly known as “Versus” is now the NBC Sports Network, and during the week that’s where NHL games are broadcast. So NBC has a decision to make: do they put the NHL All-Star Game on the network, or on NBC Sports Network?

And that’s the problem: it’s NBC’s choice to make. Gary Bettman fucked up — BIG TIME. Airing the NHL All-Star Game on NBC should have been written into the television contract with the network. Why? Because the NHL All-Star Game was aired on NBC Sports Network, which has 40% less market penetration as NBC itself — and NBC had on… wait for it…

Figure skating.

This is fucking humiliating, and Gary Bettman should be apologizing to every NHL owner, coach, player, and fan for this abomination. He took the best-kept secret in sports, and put together a completely feeble and misleading ad for it. Then he aired that ad in only 75 million homes when the vast majority of sports fans were watching something else. I know 8th-graders who could have done a better job of marketing than Bettman did with this.

And don’t even try to tell me he had no choice in the matter: that’s plainly untrue. He was able to ensure that a certain number of regular-season games aired on NBC during Sunday afternoons once football season ended: he very easily could have insisted that the All-Star Game be one of them. But with it being aired on NBCSN, there’s the very distinct possibility that it was beaten in the ratings by a “Kourtney and Kim Take New York” rerun on E!

This is a failure of staggering proportions, and it’s got Gary Bettman’s fingerprints all over it. That self-absorbed, mercenary little banker has shown, for the 18,000th time, that he doesn’t give two shits about the game of hockey; all he cares about is money. It also shows that he has the foresight of a gnat and the business sense of a 5-year-old running a lemonade stand.

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So how do you fix this? What’s the solution here? Ditch it completely. No more All-Star Game.

If we’re going to put a pathetic product on the air with feeble household reach in the middle of a maelstrom of other sports programming, don’t bother. It should be obvious by the list of star players skipping this year’s event that the players could give a flying crap whether they go or not. It’s a joke to NHL fans, it misrepresents the game to non-hockey viewers, the players don’t want to play, and because Fuhrer Bettman has allowed it to be relegated to the cable television equivalent of the Bonneville Salt Flats, hardly anybody watches. Why are we wasting the time, effort and energy on this charade?

If the players need a break mid-season, then give them one. When a team hits 41 games, give them a week off, then pick up the schedule again. If you do it right, you can stagger when that point is reached by the 30 teams, meaning you’ll only have 2 or 3 days without games being played.

And what about showcasing the league? The Winter Classic brought in more than twice as many viewers as the All-Star Game in the United States, and that’s an actual game. As far as portraying the game of hockey to the rest of the world, the Winter Classic should be the league’s focus from this day forward. They aired that game on NBC.

And as it turns out, I’m not the only one thinking this way, though these authors propose other reasons to deep-six this All-Star silliness. Adrian Dater of The Denver Post says that there was a day and a purpose for this game, but in the era of digital media it’s a dinosaur. And the editorial feature in Thursday’s edition of The Province suggests that nobody over the age of 10 has any interest. Both worthwhile arguments.

So let’s just forget the All-Star Game. It’s a carnival barker publicity stunt disguised as a game of hockey, and for the most part nobody cares anymore. Instead, the league needs to present the true face of the NHL to the world: the fastest, toughest, most exciting game in all of sports, bar none.

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