There’s a lot of infuriating things happening in the world and in the world of sports right now. But for me, what has to be near the top of the list, at least in the top five, is this…
Commercial. Touchback. Commercial.
You know those interminable points in an NFL game after a team goes on a long drive and scores either a touchdown or a field goal and the network has to make up for lost time when it comes to commercial breaks? And then you come back from said commercial break to see one completely meaningless play because Roger Goodell is doing everything he can to take the kickoff out of the game. And then what happens? Do you return to football action? No. You get… another commercial break.
— Bud Light (@budlight) August 1, 2016
The amount of commercials in an NFL game is staggering, especially when it’s compared to real live game action. Commercials make up for 63 minutes of an NFL game, compared to just 11 actual minutes of football being played. It’s probably more accurate to say that it’s really a football game breaking up a three and a half hour block of commercials than the other way around.
It’s been this way for a long time, so maybe we’ve just gotten used to it. But with ratings tanking this season, maybe the NFL is willing to finally do something about this and make the viewing experience actually more enjoyable instead of spending time looking at outside forces.
Brian Rolapp, NFL Media executive VP and NFL Network president and CEO, said the NFL could look at changing up some rules of the game to make the viewing experience better for fans. Specifically, the NFL could look to follow in the footsteps of Major League Baseball and speed up the pace of play.
Via Broadcasting & Cable:
Yet, Rolapp said, “we don’t blame everything on the election” and believes viewership ultimately comes down to whether games can hold consumers’ attention.
Picking up the pace is one option, he said.
“Could they be shorter? Could they be better? Are replays too long?” he said. “We are constantly look at those things to make the pace of the games more interesting.”
The league is also “looking very hard” at changing the way it commercializes broadcasts, as running up to 70 ads per game can be a turnoff, he said. “In a world where Netflix has no commercials and consumers are used to 15 seconds of of pre-roll, is there a better way to do commercials with our broadcast partners?”
The NFL is in the right neighborhood here when it comes to understanding the shorter attention spans of most people in modern society. And in a world where streaming services dominate live sports is pretty much the last DVR-proof element on live television, surely the NFL has to realize that fans are getting used to watching less and less advertisements. When the choice becomes “I can sit down and binge watch 4 episodes of my favorite television show without watching a single commercial” versus “let me sit through almost 70 minutes of commercials so I can watch this football game” then the NFL has some serious issues to look at.
It’s important to determine what exactly the NFL might mean by improving “pace of play” though. Hopefully it doesn’t mean compressing the game any more than it already is with the constant movement of the game clock and the 40 second play clock.
College football games are much longer than NFL games, but the pace of play is much quicker. The median college football team in FBS averages roughly 73.5 plays per game. The median NFL team averages just under 64 plays per game. The New Orleans Saints currently lead the NFL at 71.4 plays per game, which would put them 87th in the college game.
That means that on average, fans are seeing 19 more plays per game in college than in the NFL. Simply put, fans get more real football during a 60 minute college game than they do for a 60 minute NFL game. This may be hard to believe, but football fans like more football.
Over the years, pretty much every rule change with the game clock has led to less plays with it continuing to move after players go out of bounds, quarterback sacks, etc. While this shortens the game, it doesn’t really do much to effect the pace of the game. The only thing that gets more airtime during a football game is the thrilling action of watching players stand around. Seriously. Were the league to shorten the 40 second play clock to allow more plays, cut out replay reviews, or cut back on all those commercials, that would improve the overall pace of play.
NFL games are still getting longer and longer. And much like MLB, that leaves the NFL with a choice. Continue to reduce game action and make teams run less plays and give fans less football… or cut out all the other stuff. Hopefully the NFL chooses the latter, but I for one am not holding my breath, especially when it comes to having fewer commercials. When was the last time the NFL ever made a decision that made them less money?