Playing Football Takes Up 11 Minutes Of Average NFL Game

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As we all settle down in a few hours to watch the Super Bowl, The Wall Street Journal tells us that we’ll be watching a lot of television but very little football:

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.

In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg. In fact, the average telecast devotes 56% more time to showing replays.

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.

By and large, of course, this is due to the nature of the game. There are long segments of each quarter during which the clock will continue running after a play even though there’s nothing happening on the field. The alternative isn’t really an option, though, because it would mean that the average game would run much longer than it does now, with no real additional action taking place. At the same time, the networks have to find something to fill up the dead time. As the study showed, each network seems to do it a bit differently:

In this sample of games, the networks showed some significant differences. ESPN showed 24 minutes worth of replays in its game, which was 41% more than the average of the other three networks. Jay Rothman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for Monday Night Football, attributes this to the presence of Minnesota’s star quarterback, Brett Favre. Mr. Favre, he says, is a “move-the-meter guy,” who warrants a lot of extra attention.

In its game, NBC devoted more than twice as much time to nongame video packages as its competitors (decades-old pictures of John Madden with his wife, anyone?). CBS devoted 40 seconds to showing Atlanta’s kicker, Matt Bryant, warming up to make a kick, which was more time than the other three networks devoted to kickers combined. (The kick was blocked).

In its game, Fox showed about 37% fewer replays than the other networks. Fox also showed about 16% more shots than the other networks of players on the sidelines.

When it comes to showing the cheerleaders, CBS won the day with about seven seconds. NBC had just over four seconds, and Fox and ESPN had no cheerleaders whatsoever. “Cheerleaders are bigger in college,” says Mr. Brown of Fox, who notes that NFL cheerleaders from the visiting teams don’t travel to road games and aren’t as ingrained in the game as they are in college. “It’s not that we don’t like them,” adds ESPN’s Mr. Rothman. “They’re just not our motivation.”

Personally I think there’s missing out on something here. I know I certainly wouldn’t complain about a little more cheerleader time.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Peter says:

    If you are an American male you are under tremendous social pressure to worship football. If you’re not head over heels in love with the NFL people consider you a freak and weirdo at best, and some sort of f@gg0t at worst.

  2. JKB says:

    @Peter: and some sort of f@gg0t at worst.

    That is the oddest part of all. Somehow, not liking to watch, grab or stick your head in intimate places of men wearing skin tight pants makes you gay?

    But it is good not know that they spend most of their time standing around talking about stuff instead of being all rough with each other.

  3. Dale B says:

    Years ago I was working in Germany quite a bit and there was a German TV channel that showed every U.S. football game. Each game was 30 minutes with no commercials. You saw all of the actual game and even replays for the significant plays. I was almost interested enough to watch the whole game in that format.

  4. wr says:

    I always thought the biggest mistake the XFL league made when they were supposedly making a younger, hipper, more exciting game — look! stripper cheerleaders! — was to stick to the idea that four 15-minute quarters should add up to three plus hours of television. I get the economics — they wanted to sell lots and lots of ads. But despite all the talk about hippitude, the games just dragged on and on and on. If the network had insisted on a two hour slot, it might actually have felt like a different game…

  5. bernieyeball says:

    @Peter: Speak for yourself Peter.
    When my mom was alive and I would visit her on Sunday I would watch the NFL. “Why do you watch that?” she would ask. “All they do is run and fall down!”
    She was right. That’s pretty much why I watch it, to see them run and fall down.
    My friend Kayla is head over heels in love with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Her college major is sports marketing. She hopes to work for them someday.
    She knows far more about professional football than I do. I hope she can live out her dream.
    Kinda’ knocks your lame ass sweeping generalization about men right out of the ballpark.

  6. Peter says:

    @bernieyeball:

    Some women follow the NFL, no doubt about that. The difference is that a woman is free to follow the sport or not, as she sees fit. She won’t be like a man and face social pressure to be a fan.

    I’ve heard that about 40% of the people at a typical NFL game are women. Some, however, might be there mainly to accompany their husbands or boyfriends and not really be into the game themselves, sort of the flip side of men at the ballet.

  7. bernieyeball says:

    @Peter: She won’t be like a man and face social pressure to be a fan.

    So you really believe that all American males face “social pressure” (whatever that means) to watch worship NFL football?

  8. Ben says:

    @bernieyeball:

    It probably has something to do with the area of the country you live in. Maybe down south or in the midwest, they do. Up in New England, I’ve never witnessed any of that sort of pressure. Most of my friends don’t watch any sports at all, and they face no social repercussions whatsoever.

  9. Tyrell says:

    @Peter: Yes, and when I tell people that I didn’t watch much of the Super Bowl, most look at me like I am crazy. I have seen enough to know that these Super Bowls seldom live up to all of the hype. I will check the score occasionally and if it is close I watch the last quarter. One year long ago the score was so lopsided a story went around that at halftime one of the coaches got a “message” from the commissioner: quit scoring so much; the viewers are switching the game off.
    I think hockey moves faster, obviously, but the NHL games are slowed down because every time the whistle blows they all grab hold of each other and just stand around. Of course tv controls sports. Used to be other way around. Baseball? Ridiculous.@Ben:

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    I live in Brazil and I ignore SOCCER. 😉

  11. John Burgess says:

    @Peter: Really? I live in the south. I’ve watched one NFL game so far this year (Dallas-Washington playoff) and will take a look in at the Superbowl to see if it’s shaping up to be a good game. I’m confident of my gonads and my man card and can therefore watch soccer (or ballet!) if the mood strikes me. I’ve never felt ‘pressure’ to watch any damn thing on TV. I really couldn’t care less about the opinions of someone who’s going to think the less of me for it.

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @bernieyeball: Yeah! I know that I would certainly say that one counterexample represents a trend rather than an outlier.

  13. Tyrell says:

    @Ben: Around here it’s NASCAR, then college basketball, NFL and college football tied for third. That’s it.

  14. bernieyeball says:

    Peter sez: If you are an American male you are under tremendous social pressure to worship football.

    Ben Sez: It probably has something to do with the area of the country you live in. Maybe down south or in the midwest, they do. Up in New England, I’ve never witnessed any of that sort of pressure. Most of my friends don’t watch any sports at all, and they face no social repercussions whatsoever.

    No Ben. Peter sez American males experience this pressure to worship NFL football. Either New England is not part of America or Peter doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    @ cracker: You are right. In all the United States she is the only gal that has a passion for football.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    I can second the fact that I have never felt pressure to watch football, either when I did, avidly, or now, when I don’t watch any at all. But of course, I am a guy, and if we are going to stick to the stereotypes, I am almost certainly completely oblivious to what others are thinking about me. Or, if by some improbable chance I become aware that someone thinks negatively about me because I don’t watch football, my sum-total reaction would be: “what a d**che…”

  16. Murray says:

    ELEVEN minutes?! Are you sure it’s that much?

  17. Franklin says:

    Playing Football Takes Up 11 Minutes Of Average NFL Game

    Breaking news! This has been well known for at least 30 years which is when I first read this fact. Baseball’s hardly any better, as I recall (probably worse if you consider the ‘quality’ of the plays – every pitch takes about a second to reach the plate, so the 200-300 pitches takes up a few minutes and most of them are dead boring).

    Personally I think there’s missing out on something here. I know I certainly wouldn’t complain about a little more cheerleader time.

    OK, now you’re talking my language.

    If you are an American male you are under tremendous social pressure to worship football.

    I watch a ton of college games with teams I don’t care about, with nobody around and I almost never discuss them later with anybody. That’s not social pressure. Football is by far the most interesting spectator sport that I know of.