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An exhibition game (also known as an exhibition match, exhibition, demonstration, demo, exhibit or friendly) is a sporting event in which there is no competitive value of any significant kind to any competitor (such as tournament or season rankings, or prize money) regardless of the outcome of the competition. The games can be held between separate teams or between parts of the same team. Quality of play is generally valued over the result. The term scrimmage is also sometimes used, especially with regard to team sports, but is ambiguous because it has other meanings even in that context. Another synonym is preparation match.
Throughout the world, many team and one-on-one sports and games feature exhibition matches. For example, two professional snooker or chess players, or two ice hockey teams, may play an exhibition to settle a challenge, to provide professional entertainment, or often to raise money for charities.
In some sports exhibition games also take the form of a handful of pre-season games that are intended to familiarize teammates with each other and prepare for upcoming matches. In professional sports, pre-season games also help teams decide which players to keep for the regular season.
In the early days of association football, friendly matches (or "friendlies") were the most common type of match. However since the development of The Football League in England in 1888, league tournaments became established, in addition to lengthy cup tournaments. By the year 2000, national leagues were established in almost every country, as well as regional leagues for lower level teams, thus the significance of friendlies has seriously declined since the 19th century.
Since the introduction of league football, most club sides play a number of friendlies before the start of each season (called pre-season friendlies). Friendly football matches are considered to be non-competitive and are only used to "warm up" players for a new season/competitive match. There is generally nothing competitive at stake and some rules may be changed or experimented with (such as unlimited substitutions, which allow teams to play younger, less experienced, players, and no cards). Although most friendlies are simply one-off matches arranged by the clubs themselves, in which a certain amount is paid by the challenger club to the incumbent club, some teams do compete in short tournaments, such as the Emirates Cup, Teresa Herrera Trophy and the Amsterdam Tournament. Although these events may involve sponsorship deals and the awarding of a trophy and may even be broadcast on television, there is little prestige attached to them.
International teams also play friendlies, generally in preparation for the qualifying or final stages of major tournaments. This is essential, since national squads generally have much less time together in which to prepare. The biggest difference between friendlies at the club and international levels is that international friendlies mostly take place during club league seasons, not between them. This has on occasion led to disagreement between national associations and clubs as to the availability of players, who could become injured or fatigued in a friendly.
International friendlies give team managers the opportunity to experiment with team selection and tactics before the tournament proper, and also allow them to assess the abilities of players they may potentially select for the tournament squad. Players can be booked in international friendlies, and can be suspended from future international matches based on red cards or accumulated yellows in a specified period. Caps and goals scored also count towards a player's career records. In 2004, FIFA ruled that substitutions by a team be limited to six per match in international friendlies, in response to criticism that such matches were becoming increasingly farcical with managers making as many as 11 substitutions per match.
In the UK and Ireland, "exhibition match" and "friendly match" refer to different types of matches. The types described above as friendlies are not termed exhibition matches, while annual all-star matches such as those held in the US MLS or Japan's J. League are called exhibition matches rather than friendly matches. A one-off match for charitable fundraising, usually involving one or two all-star teams, or a match held in honour of a player for service to his/her club, may be described as exhibition matches but they are normally referred to as charity matches and testimonial matches respectively.
A bounce game is a non-competitive football match played between two sides usually as part of a training exercise or to give players match practice.Managers may also use bounce games as an opportunity to see a player in action before offering a contract. Usually these games are played on a training ground rather than in a stadium with no spectators in attendance.
Prior to the 1917-18 NHL season, an exhibition game was played on 15 December, between the Montreal Maroons and the Montreal Wanderers. The game was played as a benefit to aid victims of the Halifax explosion.
Under the 1995–2004 National Hockey League collective bargaining agreement, teams were limited to nine preseason games. From 1975 to 1991, NHL teams sometimes played exhibition games against teams from the Soviet Union in the Super Series, and in 1978, played against World Hockey Association teams also in preseason training. Like the NFL, the NHL sometimes schedules exhibition games for cities without their own NHL teams, often at a club's minor league affiliate (e.g. Carolina Hurricanes games at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, home of their AHL affiliate; Los Angeles Kings games at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, home of their ECHL affiliate; Montreal Canadiens games in Colisée Pepsi in Quebec City, which has no pro hockey but used to have an NHL team until 1995; various Western Canada teams at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, a potential NHL expansion venue). Since the 2000s, some preseason games have been played in Europe against European teams, as part of the NHL Challenge and NHL Premiere series. In addition to the standard preseason, there also exist prospect tournaments such as the Vancouver Canucks' YoungStars tournament and the Detroit Red Wings' training camp, in which NHL teams' younger prospects face off against each other under their parent club's banner.
The Flying Fathers, a Canadian group of Catholic priests, regularly tour North America playing exhibition hockey games for charity. One of the organization's founders, Les Costello, was a onetime NHL player who was ordained as a priest after retiring from professional hockey. Another prominent exhibition hockey team is the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team, which is composed almost entirely of retired NHL players, the majority of whom (as the name suggests) played at least a portion of their career for the Buffalo Sabres.
American college hockey teams occasionally play exhibition games against Canadian college teams as well as against USA or Canadian national teams. (In men's hockey, the senior national teams are selected from NHL and other pro players, and college teams would be overmatched against those teams even if they were allowed to play them. However, the national under-18 teams are made up of amateurs.)
Major League Baseball's preseason is known as spring training. All MLB teams maintain a spring-training base in Arizona or Florida. The teams in Arizona make up the Cactus League, while the teams in Florida play in the Grapefruit League. Each team plays about 30 preseason games against other MLB teams. They may also play exhibitions against a local college team or a minor-league team from their farm system.
Several MLB teams used to play regular exhibition games during the year against nearby teams in the other major league, but regular-season interleague play has made such games unnecessary. The two Canadian MLB teams, the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League and the Montreal Expos of the National League, met annually to play the Pearson Cup exhibition game; this tradition ended when the Expos moved to Washington DC for the 2005 season. It also used to be commonplace to have a team play an exhibition against Minor League affiliates during the regular season, but worries of injuries to players, along with travel issues, have made this very rare. The annual MLB All-Star Game, played in July between players from AL teams and players from NL teams, was long considered an exhibition match, but as of 2003 this status was questioned because the league whose team wins the All-Star game has been awarded home field advantage for the upcoming World Series.
Another exhibition game, the Hall of Fame Game/Classic which was played in Cooperstown, New York on the weekend of inductions to the Baseball Hall of Fame, was also ended in 2008 due to interleague play and teams playing only substitutes.
National Basketball Association teams play about seven preseason games per year. Nowadays,[when?] NBA teams almost always play each other in the preseason, but mainly at neutral sites within their market areas in order to allow those who can't usually make a trip to a home team's arena during the regular season to see a game close to home; for instance the Minnesota Timberwolves will play games in arenas in North Dakota and South Dakota, while the Phoenix Suns schedule one exhibition game outdoors at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California yearly, the only such instance an NBA game takes place in an outdoor venue.
However, from 1971 to 1975, NBA teams played preseason exhibitions against American Basketball Association teams. In the early days of the NBA, league clubs sometimes challenged the legendary barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters, with mixed success. The NBA has played preseason games in Europe and Asia. In the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the NBA and the primary European club competition, the Euroleague, conducted a preseason tournament featuring two NBA teams and the finalists from that year's Euroleague.
Traditionally, major college basketball teams began their seasons with a few exhibition games. They played travelling teams made up of former college players on teams such as such as Athletes in Action or a team sponsored by Marathon Oil. On occasion before 1992, when FIBA allowed professional players on foreign national teams, colleges played those teams in exhibitions. However, in 2003, the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned games with non-college teams. Some teams have begun scheduling exhibition games against teams in NCAA Division II and Division III. Major college basketball teams still travel to other countries during the summer to play in exhibition games.
Compared to other sports, the National Football League preseason is very structured. Every NFL team plays exactly four pre-season exhibition games a year, two at home and two away, with the exception of two teams each year who play a fifth game, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. These exhibition games, most of which are held in the month of August, are played for the purpose of helping coaches narrow down the roster from the offseason limit of 90 players to the regular-season limit of 53 players. While the scheduling formula is not as rigid for preseason games as they are for the regular season, there are numerous restrictions and traditions that limit the choices of preseason opponents; teams are also restricted on what days and times they can play these games. Split-squad games (common in baseball and hockey) are prohibited. The NFL has played exhibition games in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia (including the American Bowl in 1999) and Mexico to spread the league's popularity (a game of this type was proposed for China but, due to financial and logistical problems, was eventually canceled). The league has tacitly forbidden the playing of non-league opponents, with the last interleague game having come in 1961 and the last game against a team other than an NFL team (the all-NFL rookie College All-Stars) was held in 1976. Exhibition games are quite unpopular with many fans, who resent having to pay regular-season prices for two home exhibition games as part of a season-ticket package. Numerous lawsuits have been brought by fans and classes of fans against the NFL or its member teams regarding this practice, but none have been successful in halting it. The Pro Bowl, traditionally played after the end of the NFL season (the 2011 edition was played the week prior to the Super Bowl), is also considered an exhibition game.
The Arena Football League briefly had a two-game exhibition season in the early 2000s, a practice that ended in 2003 with a new television contract. Exhibition games outside of a structured season are relatively common among indoor American football leagues; because teams switch leagues frequently at that level of play, it is not uncommon to see some of the smaller leagues schedule exhibition games against teams that are from another league, about to join the league as a probational franchise, or a semi-pro outdoor team to fill holes in a schedule.
College and high school football
Many college football teams, particularly larger organizations, play a public intramural exhibition game in the spring mainly to promote the team and give new recruits an early chance at public game action. Many of these intramural games are nationally televised, though not to the same level of prominence as intercollegiate play. In college sports the commonly used term for the major scrimmage at the end of spring practice is the "Spring Game."
True exhibition games between opposing colleges at the highest level do not exist in college football; due to the importance of opinion polling in the top level of college football, even exhibition games would not truly be exhibitions because they could influence the opinions of those polled. Intramural games are possible because a team playing against itself leaves little ability for poll participants to make judgments, and at levels below the Football Bowl Subdivision, championships are decided by objective formulas and thus those teams can play non-league games without affecting their playoff hopes.
However, many of the major FBS teams usually schedule early season non-conference home games against lesser opponents that are lower-tier FBS, Football Championship, or Division II schools, which often result in lopsided victories in favor of the FBS teams and act as exhibition games in all but name, though they also provide a large appearance fee and at least one guaranteed television appearance for the smaller school. These games also receive the same criticism as NFL exhibition games, but instead it is targeted to schools scheduling low-quality opponents and the simplicity for a team to run up the score against a weak opponent. However, these games are susceptible to backfiring, resulting in damage in poll position and public perception, especially if the higher ranked team lose, although the mere act of scheduling a weak opponent is harmful to a team's overall strength of schedule itself. Games an FBS team schedules against lower division opponents do not count toward the minimum seven wins required for bowl eligibility.
High school football teams frequently participate in controlled scrimmages with other teams during preseason practice, but exhibition games are rare because of league rules and concerns about finances, travel and player injuries, along with enrollments not being registered until the early part of August in most school districts under the traditional September–June academic term. A more common exhibition is the high school football all-star game, which brings together top players from a region. These games are typically played by graduating seniors during the summer or at the end of the season. Many of these games are used as showcases for players to be seen by colleges.
Teams in the Canadian Football League play two exhibition games each year, in June. Exhibition games in the CFL have taken on great importance to coaching staff and players alike in that they are used as a final stage of training camp and regular season rosters are finalized after the exhibition games, which are generally referred to as "pre-season" play.
Australian rules football
Australian rules football has been introduced to a wide range of places around Australia and the world since the code originated in Victoria in 1859. Much of this expansion can be directly attributed to exhibition matches by the major leagues in regions and countries where the code has been played as a demonstration sport.
Various auto racing organizations hold exhibition events, more specifically, races that do not count towards the season championship. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holds one exhibition event annually, the Sprint Unlimited at the start of the season. The top seven teams of each manufacturer from the previous season compete in the event which awards cash prizes only, and no points towards the Sprint Cup championship. A second event, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is also a non-points paying race; however, it is falls under the category of all-star events. NASCAR also held exhibition races previously at Suzuka Circuit and Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and Calder Park Thunderdome in Australia.
Other historical examples of non-championship races include the Marlboro Challenge in IndyCar racing and the TOCA Touring Car Shootout in the British Touring Car Championship. Until the mid-1980s there were a significant number of non-championship Formula One races.
The National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock teams will have a pre-season drag meet held before the traditional start in Pomona. The Pro Stock Showdown is a pre-season drag meet held for the Pro Stock teams held at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
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- All-Time ABA vs. NBA Exhibition Game Results Remember the ABA - Article about NBA vs. ABA exhibitions
- College Basketball Exhibitions: No Longer Open Season CollegeHoopsNet, 16 November 2004 - Article about the 2003 NCAA ruling