CHICAGO – The hockey world was captivated by a professional All-Star Game earlier this week – and it was not the AHL’s. Whereas the NHL and ECHL played a playoff elimination bracket for their 3-on-3 All-Star Game, the AHL played a round-robin tournament for the third consecutive year.
For the third year in a row, the AHL asked fans to watch six (yes, six!) 10 minute 3-on-3 games followed by a six-minute championship game. While 3-on-3 is already a hotly contested topic within the hockey world, for it is essentially a skills competition and waiting to see which team makes a mistake first, that is not the main issue befalling the AHL’s All-Star format.
What is, however, is asking fans to stick around for three and a half hours – almost an hour longer than the average AHL game. After a game or two, it becomes very repetitive and uneventful.
All-Star Games are supposed to be just as fun for the fans as they are for the players, and by the time the championship rolled around, no one was enjoying themselves. A simple Twitter search will show how many people found the game to be too long, and according to The Sin Bin’s informal Twitter poll leading up to the All-Star events, the majority of people planned on watching the skills competition only.
There is no advantage to drawing out a fun competition to play more games when both the NHL and ECHL see the bracket system as an adequate way to decide a champion. Whereas the NHL winners split a significant cash prize, there is at best a nominal cash bonus at stake for at the AHL level – it is more so bragging rights – yet the league insists upon making the event akin to watching paint dry.
In addition to the drawn-out number of games themselves, both the skills competition and the games featured numerous cutaways to dancers in place of what is usually an in-game host. While I understand showcasing the hard work the dancers put in, the amount of screen time they received was a bit overkill, especially considering each woman was dancing alone. Hockey teams tend to have fantastic in-game hosts, and their shenanigans always prove an excellent way to pass the time between events.
Instead, fans were left with shot after shot of single dancers and Zambonis cleaning the ice. A three-and-a-half-hour event consisting of seven games means there is going to be a lot of dead time, even with the cutaways to the mascot games, and the AHL failed to effectively fill this time in a way which captivated fans. In turn, it made the event feel even longer.
Therefore, I propose two simple solutions. One, get rid of the round-robin tournament in lieu of a single-elimination bracket. Two, effectively utilize the in-game host from the host team to help fill dead times. I firmly believe doing both would go a long way towards helping improve fan viewership for the AHL All-Star Game by providing a much more captivating product. There is still a place for the dancers within the All-Star Game’s entertainment, but I believe they would be better utilized as a group performing a routine(s).