26 March 2017

A football game has only 11 minutes of action

From a 2010 article in the WSJ (the numbers might have changed a bit since then):
According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes...

So what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast? Not surprisingly, commercials take up about an hour. As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps. In the four broadcasts The Journal studied, injured players got six more seconds of camera time than celebrating players. While the network announcers showed up on screen for just 30 seconds, shots of the head coaches and referees took up about 7% of the average show...
This is why the only way I watch football nowadays is by using a DVR and speeding through the game (and past the commercials).

Reposted from 2012 to add news of developments in 2017:
"It has been an effort for a long period of time. We've talked about the length of the game," [NFL Commissioner] Goodell said. "This effort's not as focused on the length of the game. This is focused on what's happening outside the plays -- how fast we get the ball set, the number of breaks, the number of intrusions -- so that fans can focus on the action."

With all this talk about making the game faster for fans, what would Goodell consider the ideal length of a broadcast?
"We (were at) 3:07 and change (last season), down about a minute," Goodell said. "We think we could probably get pretty close to five minutes of downtime out of the game, so that would bring you somewhere in the 3:02 range. That would be very successful if we could get to that point. But, again, not just the length. We want to make sure we are taking the right things out of the game -- the things that are not compelling to our fans."
Clueless.  The idea that cutting 5 minutes out of a 3-hour broadcast will satisfy fans' frustrations shows that viewer interests don't even begin to compete with advertiser's interests.


  1. And people wonder why I say that watching a football game is like watching paint dry!

  2. No wonder the TV commentators are completely perplexed by no-huddle offences. The 11 minutes of action are coming all at once!

  3. You Americans ought to consider taking up our Aussie football (or AFL, as it is sometimes referred to). It is a great game and has been played here for many decades, since 1859 in fact. The oval ball is in play from the very start of the game to the very end, some four 20 minute quarters later. Many skills are involved and the ball is handpassed, bounced while running with it, kicked long and high, and caught or "marked", if possible, after kicking, by players who run around most of the time. Wikipedia has an extensive page about the rules, etc.

    The aim is to kick the ball between high posts at either end of the large oval-shaped ground. Both teams have 18 players who wear shorts and t-shirt or singlets, with special boots. Find something of it in youtube and you'll see what I mean. I never did see the appeal to your American Code of football, with your bulky uniform, and now I find the ball is in play for an average of only 11 minutes? Crazy! You pay for tickets to see that?

  4. That's why I watch NFL Redzone. Of course you miss the build up and flow of the game and it costs extra to avoid all the game breaks and commercials, but you get to watch the best action from every game in the league as it happens.

  5. No wonder i have never been into American football, I have tried my best to watch it as a sports lover, and understand most of the rules, but i just can't seem to get into it. I will stick to rugby, soccer, Australian football, and everything else.

  6. if you record the game, edit out all the extraneous material (ads, close-ups, etc.), and watch the result at fast speed, you see the dynamics of the game - two waves going back and forth across the field. you can even pick up on this feeling for the game just by FF-ing through your recording of the game without the editing. not that this makes the game or sport any better, it is just a different view. just like watching a slo-mo of a balloon popping gives you a feel of the dynamics of what happens, so does watching an FF of a football game.


  7. I think this is a bit like saying a chess game is only a few minutes long if you only count the time someone actually has a hand on a piece. American football is a surprisingly cerebral game, and much of the time is spent strategizing and working the opponent.

    Watching a play run is the final moment of the minutes built up to that. Of course, if you aren't aware of the intricacies of what's happening on and off the field, yes the 5-10 seconds of action really do seem to come far too infrequently.

    Where as I can't stand to watch soccer/the other football. It's eons of players jogging back and forth and passing a ball, occasionally taking mostly pointless shots at the goal, and for some reason people are still excited of a game ends 0-0.

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  9. Here's a graphical comparison of several sports. Hard to believe football is worse than baseball.

  10. So, why or why don't sports broadcasters do the work for me and edit out all games down to 11 minutes? There are so many games no one can watch them all, but I bet if you put them all behind each other, you can get people to watch more football. Or sell them game-by-game.


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