Pro Bowl and All-Star Ballot-Stuffing Draws Ire

November 24, 2008 11:29 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Campaigns to stuff online ballot boxes for the pro sports leagues’ all-star games abound. Redskins and Canadiens fans are the latest to take advantage.

NFL, NHL Games Subject to Suspect Votes

As online voting continues for the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, some are unhappy that several Washington Redskins players are leading the fans’ votes, despite the team’s poor record this season.

The Associated Press quoted an e-mail from a league official to teams that suggests they encourage Pro Bowl voting. The e-mail says, “As it stands right now, the Redskins are leading the NFC ballots in 16 of 19 positions.”

Some of the players who are leading aren’t even pleased with the news. Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Blog spoke to a couple of Redskins last week. Randy Thomas, Steinberg said, had this to say upon hearing the news: “Pffffffft. After this game? Unbelievable. Damn. I mean, I don’t know how. I don’t think I’m playing at a Pro Bowl level, to be honest. From my point of view, I could do a lot better. Thanks for the votes, but …”

Ryan Plackmeier, a punter for the team, told Steinberg that he thought votes would even out “once other teams kind of catch on.”

Ballot-box stuffing is hardly confined to football. Right now, Montreal Canadiens fans are being criticized by some for electronically stuffing the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game ballots.

According to the blog From The Rink, James Mirtle last week reported that NHL officials are investigating the voting.

Gary Meaghar, the league’s spokesman, told Mirtle, “I don’t want to jump to conclusions at this point. There is some indication that something has happened. I’m not at a point where I can say definitively that something has taken place.”

The National Post reported that the NHL wound up stripping votes from some of the players.

And in the National Basketball Association, some teams are encouraging the practice. According to Alejandro de los Rios, who was writing on the Best of New Orleans blog, the Hornets organization hosted an event on Nov. 13 for an All-Star ballot campaign, where fans were encouraged to fill out 50 ballots.

Historical Context: 1957 Cincinnati Reds; “Vote for Rory”

In 1957, the Cincinnati Enquirer distributed preprinted All-Star ballots with the newspaper. The result? Seven Cincinnati Reds were elected to the starting team, forcing Commissioner Ford Frick to step in and bench two of them, arbitrarily adding Hank Aaron and Willie Mays to the starting lineup. Voting was taken away from the fans for more than a decade. Fans were given back the ability to vote for starters in 1970, and have kept it ever since.

And last year's NHL All-Star game voting was notable for the “Vote for Rory” campaign. It started, according to Slate magazine, with an upstate New York man who wanted to see an average player in the All-Star game. He chose Vancouver Canuck  Rory Fitzpatrick to be that player. The movement included videos, press coverage and T-shirts, but what really got Fitzpatrick on the ballot was a software program that let fans automatically fill out thousands of ballots online. It was called, Slate said, the Rory Vote-O-Matic. Despite the plug-in, Fitzpatrick didn’t make the All-Star team, but there is much suspicion that his absence was engineered. Daniel Engber, author of the Slate article, said the evidence looked like “the NHL cooked the books.”

Opinion & Analysis: All-star games ignored; a better way; voting as a marketing tool

On the site Bleacher Report, a contributor named Jennie said the uproar over possible NHL ballot-stuffing is “all the more ridiculous and suspicious” because the all-star games are such “non-events.”

“Currently, fans are treated to a half-hearted, non-contact game with football-like scores,” she said.

She went on to say that maybe having many Canadiens play at the All-Star Game wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Eastern Conference. “A few days of rest in January could be the difference maker in April,” she said.

Mike Bell of Canwest News Service, suggested an alternative to the online voting. “A better way to include fans in the balloting process might be to tie it to ticket sales. That way, the right fans are the ones who would get a say.”

Earlier this summer, Mike Celizic, writing on MSNBC, said that, by allowing multiple voting, Major League Baseball “is preying on fans devotion.”

“[T]he point isn’t to give fans a way to really show their love for a favorite player by voting multiple times. It’s to get you to sign up for marketing, and the system is set up to make sure you do, whether you want to or not.”

Related Topic: Fan voting throws off British reality TV

The BBC’s John Kelly examines the phenomenon of reality television stars becoming popular with the fans when a show’s “experts” criticize them. He points to the show Strictly Come Dancing, in which judges described contestant John Sergeant as a “dancing pig in Cuban heels,” but the public loved him.

“They would carry on voting for him to stay on the show no matter what the judges said. And when the bashful Sergeant himself bowed out of the contest, howls of protest reverberated in newspaper letters pages and internet messageboards across the nation,” Kelly wrote.

Reference: Baseball, basketball, football and hockey Web guides


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