The NHL knew things had to change with its All-Star Game.
Television ratings -- not to mention the entertainment value -- were bad and getting worse by the year. According to Sports Media Watch, the 2015 All-Star Game on NBCSN had just 1.2 million viewers. The 2012 game had 1.3 million, and the 2011 game had 1.5 million.
By comparison, last year's NBA All-Star game on TNT drew an average of 7.8 million viewers.
Suddenly, in 2016, the NHL stumbled upon a hit. A 3-on-3 tournament format was introduced with 11 players representing each of the four divisions. The games since then have largely been competitive and entertaining. It looks like it matters to the players. It looks like ... actual hockey.
Players, understandably, still do not go all-out to win, thereby risking an unnecessary injury. But at least it's become more palatable. The more wide-open format can create terrific individual moments, but teamwork is also necessary to have any success.
Hockey fans have responded. According to NBC, Total Audience Delivery for the 2016 game on NBCSN increased to 1.595 million. Last season's TAD increased to 2.28 million viewers, as the game was shown on network television (NBC) for the first time since 2004.
So here are five reasons why Sunday's NHL All-Star Game will again be worth watching -- Kid Rock's scheduled performance notwithstanding.
1. A unique moment: Since fans were robbed of the chance to watch NHL players in the Olympics, this will be our only chance to watch most of the world's best players all in one arena. We can't watch Vancouver's Brock Boeser and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau be teammates for Team USA, but they'll be teammates for a day in Tampa this weekend. Same goes for Canadian stars Brent Burns of the Sharks, Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and Edmonton's Connor McDavid. Come to think of it, that Pacific Division team -- which won the tournament in 2016 -- looks pretty fun.
2. There's usually some unpredictability: In 2016, there was also a lot of buildup -- positive and otherwise -- surrounding the inclusion of noted tough guy John Scott on the Pacific Division team. The one-time Shark, after much outside consternation, ended up winning MVP honors, and Burns and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski could not have been happier.
Even going back a decade or two, there's been some unforgettable moments. Owen Nolan famously called his shot in the 1997 game -- the last time San Jose hosted the event -- as he pointed to the top corner past goalie Dominik Hasek and proceeded to score in that exact spot.