One of the major issues facing the NFL this offseason is what to do about the decline in ratings over the course of the 2016 season. While the league’s numbers did pick up some after the 2016 election cycle finished, it still presented the first downturn in television audiences for America’s most popular sport in quite some time. And while the league was trying to downplay the significance of the decline publicly, apparently it was enough of an alarm to cause the league to consider some changes to its television product.
Most of the attention thus far has been around how to speed up the game and improve the pace of play. While there was a brief fleeting moment where it seemed like the NFL might consider fewer interminable commercial breaks, that was quickly shot down in favor of rearranging the breaks where we could at least get rid of one of the seven most evil things on the planet – the commercial break-touchback-commercial break sequence.
Probably the most important voice in all this belongs to the television networks that are paying the NFL billions of dollars for broadcast rights to their games. And if the comments of CBS chairman Les Moonves are any indication, they all want there to be some significant change as well.
Moonves said last week that he’s discussed with Goodell ways to speed up the pace of play including “reformatting” commercials and cutting down on time wasted during instant replay. Via Fortune:
Potential actions discussed by Moonves and Goodell include cutting down on the amount of time that NFL referees spend watching instant replay when plays and calls on the field are challenged. They also discussed a “reformatting” regarding commercials that air during NFL games, though Moonves noted that would not mean cutting down on the number of actual advertisements sold for each game.
“If there are ways of doing advertising in different ways that are equally beneficial, we’re looking at that, and we’re trying to make the game as good an experience as we could make it,” Moonves said during the call.
Goodell has made it clear that the NFL is considering how it can tweak the TV experience to avoid losing more viewers, with some changes likely to be implemented as soon as the upcoming 2017 season. Many in the league would like to cut down on the number of game stoppages, such as commercial breaks, and ESPN has even experimented with split-screen ads allow commercials to air while the game continues.
The NFL and the networks can talk all they want about “reformatting” commercial breaks, but aren’t we just talking about rearranging the deck chairs here? Sure, it might be nice to not have so many commercial breaks during a game, but if each one is much longer doesn’t the NFL risk losing fans with short attention spans? Furthermore, it does nothing to actually shorten the game if you’re keeping the same amount of commercial time.
Why not take a page out of soccer’s playbook and show a sponsorship on the screen between plays or something. I’m sure NFL fans would sacrifice a few inches of screen space during downtime to save on extra commercials and at least it wouldn’t be ads on jerseys. Although if the NFL and the networks need to make up on lost revenue, that’s probably not too far around the corner.