The Event Professor is in.
In my career I have researched several major league All-Star Games. Whenever I mention this to a sports enthusiast, I brace myself for the inevitable dismissal. Common remarks include: "Those are meaningless exhibition games," or "The players hold back to avoid injuries!”
Well, that could be true- but I’m going to leave that debate to the sports professors. On recent projects, your Event Professor has learned that there’s a lot to like about these events, both on and off the playing field.
The first thing to know is that people who refer to these events as All-Star Games have only ever watched them on TV. People who have been lucky enough to experience them live know them as All-Star Weekends or Weeks. These are mega-events which feature many days of exciting activities and celebrations, culminating in the grand finale game.
Indeed, most sports fans are more familiar with the televised portions of these events, which typically feature skills competitions like the NBA's 3-Point and Slam Dunk contests. These events are amazing to enjoy live, and superfans who attend in person get the experience of a lifetime. Aside from these main attractions, fans are able to enjoy plenty of autograph signing, meet-and-greets, and photo opportunities with living legends.
Then there are the non-sport enhancements. Families can enjoy meeting mascots or cheerleaders at pep rally events, and there are often major concerts- the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend featured a live performance by Green Day.
For fans who want to enjoy their favorite sport at all levels, most All-Star Games also feature youth or amateur league games leading up to the main event. At the NFL Pro Bowl, youth teams from across the country get to play their championship games on the same field as the All-Stars!
Finally, the sponsor villages are exceptional. The Fan Fests at All-Star Games rival those of any college bowl game or NASCAR event. For example, the MLS All-Star Game features 20+ beautiful brand activations, and fans can take part in sponsored activities like hands-on soccer skill games or athlete photo opportunities.
HOSTING OPPORTUNITIES AND ECONOMIC IMPACT
Now for the business side of these entertaining events. Much like championship games, most All-Star Games are hosted by teams across the league, so the venue changes annually.
The NFL Pro Bowl is an exception. It’s held in a non-franchise city (currently Orlando and previously Honolulu) every year.
Both strategies work well. Team-hosted games allow cities to showcase brand-new stadiums, while outsider events provide a way for local fans to connect with the league.
Regardless of the hosting arrangement, these games bring in massive economic impact. This is because All-Star Games attract mostly non-local fans, packing hotels and restaurants with tourists.
In contrast, most regular-season sports games attract mainly local season ticket holders. So, despite their prestige, the per-game economic impact of regular season games can be low. Believe it or not, one of the main reasons why these games have grown to become week-long events is to increase the overnight stays and economic impact for host cities!
How much impact can a city expect? A typical NBA or MLB All-Star Game can bring in over $100 million to its region, surpassing many large music festivals, state fairs, and business conventions.
They are so lucrative that each year in every franchise city, teams of CVB and tourism executives prepare competitive bids to host these celebrations. One phenomenon that surrounds these events is that All-Star cities often end up hosting championship games just a few years later. This could explain why competition is so fierce!
Are these much-hyped games really "boring exhibition matches" like some people say? Not always! Some leagues have listened to their fans and begun developing more interesting matchups than the standard east-vs-west contest.
For example, in recent years MLS has invited iconic international soccer clubs like Juventus and Arsenal to play against their own league's All-Stars. Fans were delighted, and tickets quickly sold out.
Don't get me wrong, your Event Professor also loves championships like the Super Bowl and World Series. But if you’re a sports or event fan who wants a similar experience without paying reseller prices, check out an All-Star Week the next time there’s one near you. You will not be disappointed.
I have researched 1000+ events worldwide and love to share stories. Please contact me if you want to discuss anything from visitor surveys to economic impact to sponsorship ROI measurement.
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