National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell announced before this season that several changes would be made to step up the pace of play in games, which had swelled to an average of 3 hours 7 minutes 8 seconds.
Who can afford 3:07:08 to do anything these days — other than sleep or (maybe) work or study? The lack of flow, ruffled by commercials, was one of several reasons that NFL viewership on television had been slipping even before the national anthem controversy this year.
As NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote me in an email Wednesday: “We don’t want excessive commercialization or a cluttered experience. We worked carefully to study that and figure out how best to reduce interruptions.”
Well, the early game-length results are in, and it seems the implementations are indeed helping — but only a teeny bit. Through seven weeks, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, an average NFL game is down to 3:06:42, providing the viewer with 26 valuable extra seconds to wash the car on a Sunday.
The average amount of actual action in an NFL game has been calculated to be between 11 and 15 minutes. The other three hours or so are covered by replays, advertisements, color commentary, advertisements, huddles for the next play, and then more advertisements.
“We did a great deal of work on our game presentation with a focus on taking out some of the dead time and reducing the number of interruptions to the action on the field,” McCarthy wrote. “We don’t want excessive commercialization, or a cluttered experience. We worked carefully to study that and figure out how best to reduce interruptions.”
The NFL has tried to sand down the dead spots by having all plays reviewed in its New York office, rather than on site, and running a 40-second play clock after touchdowns and before extra points, not so much to limit the celebrations as to keep things moving along.
There are two fewer commercial “pods”: those (irritating) 2-minute-20-second bunches of ads during breaks in the action.
Eliminating a chunk of commercials altogether, which would most effectively trim the time of games, would seem to be out. Even with NFL ratings scuffling, Standard Media Index reported that advertisers spent $513 million on NFL games in September — up from $504 million in September 2016.
McCarthy said the NFL is studying advertisement innovations, including the “double box,” in which action is carried in one box on the screen and advertising is shown in the other. The double box is used in sporting events with continuous action, like auto racing.
The NBA has added small advertising patches on uniforms this year, and hockey and soccer games carry advertising on the sides of rinks and pitches. With technology creating yellow first-down lines for football fans, it might be only a matter of time until ads are projected on the field — the First National Bank of Gotham first-down marker!
The NFL is consistent, anyway: In every season between 2000 and 2016, according to figures provided by the NFL, the average time of a game was between 3:02:12 (2008) and 3:08:18 (2015). But young viewers in particular don’t want to spend three hours doing anything, let alone watching television.
It would seem as if two and a half hours would be more optimal, if not two hours. The only way to get there is either to use a running clock, as in soccer, or to trim some bottom-line-fattening ads. Maybe Tom Brady could wear a sponsor’s sticker on his helmet, like a stock car.