Changing Things Up: Lessons From the NBA All-Star Game

For the first time, the NBA All-Star Game is moving away from its East vs. West format in favor of something akin to playing on a playground. Event planners would do well to take heed of the shift.

For decades the NBA All-Star Game had a pretty consistent format—East versus West. That’s the way the league has done things since 1951, when Boston Garden hosted the first one.

Until this week, that is. In an unprecedented move for the league, the NBA will base next year’s All-Star Game on a combination of two factors: Which players get the most votes from fans and coaches, and—most interestingly—the preferences of the top vote-getter for each conference. In other words, the teams will be chosen in much the same way that teams for playground games are decided. And to add a layer of competition, the games will include a charity element that will benefit the local community—in this case, the game is taking place in Los Angeles.

The reason for the dramatic shift? Simple. The games had gotten a bit too boring and samey. (The scores were also sky-high—last year, the Western Conference won 192 to 182, a point level that would be incredibly uncommon in a standard NBA game.) When you get two dozen of the league’s best players in the same room, it leads to a lot of dunks.

“The game consisted of virtually no defense and provided little reason to tune in beyond uncontested dunks and players flinging up three-pointers,” The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps wrote.

The shift offers plenty of takeaways for associations putting on events, including:

Don’t be afraid to borrow from others. The concept the NBA is using is similar, if not exactly the same, as one that the NHL used for its All-Star Games for a few years, between 2011 and 2015. The NHL has traditionally had a much more malleable All-Star Game format than the NBA has, including at one point putting teams of international players against teams of U.S. players, and most recently, turning the All-Star Game into a single elimination three-on-three tournament between the league’s four divisions. That format has proved popular with fans. The NBA clearly took inspiration from the competing league—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Play up the dramatics. The NBA famously has outsize personalities among its biggest stars, meaning that people not only care about LeBron James’ play but also his approach to competing and behavior toward other players. That means the league will be able to score some pregame buzz off of the event, because it leverages a major asset in the NBA—drama.

Get started early. The current NBA season hasn’t even started yet—it’s only in preseason mode right now—but we’re already talking about the All-Star Game. By announcing the plan months in advance, the league earns itself months of press, months of discussion, and a whole lot of wondering what’s about to happen next. When introducing a new event strategy, it’s important to give your audience time to prepare for it, so they know not only what’s coming, but so they have time to get excited about it.

(Evan Gole/STAPLES Center/via

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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