January 15, 2010
While watching the NFL's divisional playoff games this weekend, you may have more time to go to the refrigerator than you think.
According to a Wall Street Journal study of four games from week 16, the average NFL game features just 10 minutes 43 seconds of action. Commercials account for nearly 60 minutes of the three hour affairs. And when the networks are showing the game, the bulk of the time is spent either on replays or shots of players huddling, in pre-snap formations or "milling about."
That makes for an action-to-downtime ratio of about 10 to 1. That seems startling, but it really shouldn't be. (Anything can be startling when you do some simple math. I just figured out I've spent about 152 hours watching NFL games this season. That's six days I could have spent
doing something productive watching something else on TV.) Football isn't basketball or hockey; the games don't have that type of flow ... not that there's anything wrong with that.
The beauty of football is in the controlled chaos of those 120 or so snaps. Eleven men on one side trying to advance the ball while 11 men on the other try to stop it. That's the appeal of the game.
Plus, in dramatic contests, the inaction is sometimes as exciting as the action. Football can maintain the drama throughout that 164 minutes of inactivity. Some of the best moments are in the build-up to the 4th and short or as the clock ticks down when a quarterback marches his team down the field. The 10 minutes and 43 seconds are what we watch for, but without the other time there'd be no context with which to enjoy it.
Some other highlights from the piece:
-- No, you're not just imagining things: Networks do show Brett Favre(notes) more often. In the Monday Night Football game studies by the WSJ's researchers, ESPN showed 41 percent more replays than other networks. A producer said it was because Favre is a "move the meter guy."
-- FOX shows the fewest replays and most shots of the sidelines.
-- Some producers only care about the cheerleaders if they're from the Dallas Cowboys.
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