by Tom Walker
The NBA All-Star Game is an annual celebration of the association’s biggest talents and most skilful players. The game itself takes place following a packed weekend of other basketball related events including a three-point contest, a dunk contest, a celebrity game and much more.
It is a tradition that started all the way back in 1951 and has steadily progressed to become one of America’s most significant cultural occasions. The concept is not just limited to basketball, as other popular American sports such as football and ice hockey have their own All-star events, showcasing the best players from their respective sports.
These events offer huge commercial opportunities, as according to Kantar Media, the 2018 NBA All-Star Game generated $43.9 million in advertisement sale revenues alone.
But despite the undisputed popularity and commercial success of these events, the concept has never translated to British shores.
Romelu Lukaku, the former Manchester United striker, flirted with the idea back in 2018 when he tweeted “Here’s an idea for you guys… the nba has all-star game! Don’t you guys think we should organise one in the @premierleague.. The north vs the south!”.
The tweet stirred up some conversation, but ultimately nothing came of it.
The new cricket tournament, The Hundred, scheduled for the summer is the probably the closest thing to the All-Star concept in the UK. In hope to increase popularity of the sport, the tournament provides an opportunity for audiences to see the best cricketers from around the country come together to compete against one another.
It withholds a few of the same principles, but even still is a bit of a stretch to the American ideology of an All-star game.
The reality is that the sporting cultures of both America and the UK are worlds apart.
Firstly, American sport associations do not have relegation or promotion and generally teams do not have consequences for being bad. In turn, this puts huge emphasis on the teams that are good and places the spotlight on the individuals that make those teams good.
Therefore, the All-Star Games and Pro-Bowls are used as opportunities to reward those players for putting their teams in that position.
Teams in British divisions must deal with much harsher realities. Relegation has huge sporting and financial repercussions for teams, and by risking their most valuable players for the sake of an exhibition match is just not worth it for them.
The deep rooted historical and regional rivalries between teams from sport to sport means it is hard to envision an occasion where fans of all sides come together in one harmonious state to enjoy an event like an All-Star exhibition.
Football in particular has become incredibly tribalistic, where fans find it almost impossible to appreciate anyone other than those wearing their team’s colours, and players that have departed for another English club receive nothing but dogs abuse.
Could you imagine a Cardiff fan voting for a Swansea or Bristol City player to feature in an All-Star game? I do not think so.
But it is these rivalries and traditions that make sport here in the UK so great. The All-star concept is an entertaining thing to theorise, but it would be a huge cultural adjustment and one that would have to get over a plethora of logistical barriers to succeed.