I like the game of football. In fact, I like all codes of football. Each year I seem to gain more of a respect and interest in the code where players use their feet and can’t use the hands (unless you are a Frenchman). In college, I enjoyed playing a version where two straight queues smash into one another in remembrance of the long lost form of 17th – 19th century warfare (a.k.a rugby). There’s even a version Down Under that requires the occasional (perhaps unnecessary) dribble of the ball that will pique my interest from time to time.
And then there is the version that is purely American. The one where glorified overweight men bang their bulky pads into one another in order to protect or capture the inshape ones in five second intervals. It is really a weird game to unAmericans, but, boy, do we love it!
American Football (which I will call football here on out) is the code I have spent the most time playing, watching, analyzing, and agonizing over in my lifetime. I know I understand it better than the average American. After all, I fondly remember dissecting the ins and outs of the option offense during the 7th Hour Quarterback classes I was able to take in place of Study Hall Freshman and Sophomore year.
The Case for the National Football League
There is only one professional version of football that matters to Americans, the NFL. Sorry UFL, but until the uniforms of all your teams don’t use ugly matching patterns, I can’t even begin to take you seriously. Having one dominate leagues is typically a good thing for athletic competitions, because it means the best players ply their trade in the best league.
Perhaps, the success of the NFL lies in one thing, they play once a week for only 16 games a year. This means every game is life and death. Every drive is critical. Every game is sold out. It means that at every water cooler across the country there is football talk for the game just played or the upcoming game. It is easy for a casual fan to know who is next.
Economically, this is a classic case of supply and demand. Decrease the supply and it increases the demand. It means every game sells out (at a premium price) and television exposure is maximized. And that is music to advertisers ears. It’s amazing how the NFL can generate more revenue in a 16 game schedule than Major League Baseball with its 162 game schedule.
Getting Tired of the National Football League
Yet despite all of the success the NFL has had, especially over the past decade, it is destroying itself with an increasing greedy number of in-game commercial breaks and TMZ like speculation and commentary.
While watching the World Cup this summer, I found myself enjoying the absence of commercials. The flow of the game was the following:
- We start with a ten minute pregame ceremony (including the final), which includes the national anthems, proof of participation (a team picture), and the initial scrambling to get in place before kickoff. (No commercial break)
- Play begins and doesn’t end for 46 minutes of real time (including one minute for stoppage).
- Then we all take a 20 minute break to empty our bladders and refill our drinks, and the advertisers can go nuts for 10 of the 20 minutes.
- Play continues for another continuous 48 minutes (including 3 minutes for stoppage).
- Game over. Add it up and that is 124 minutes, or 2 hours and 4 minutes. You can set your clock to it. It respects your time.
Yet with a NFL Game, there is a commercial break at every major stoppage of play. For your benefit and not necessarily mine, I decided to do some research to show how many commercials there are. Thus, I gritted out the first quarter of the most insufferable match up there can possibly be, the Bengals and the Cowboys.
I started at the opening kick-off which was at 7:10. There were 6 commercial breaks in the first quarter alone that ended at 7:47. Check the notes if you want to. Here’s what I concluded:
- 37 minutes of actual time.
- 15 minutes of official time the clock was running.
- 11 minutes of commercials. That’s already one minute more than the soccer game and 29% of the total broadcast.
- Which means there was 11 minutes spent when the game clock was stopped, but the broadcast was live. This included penalties, dropped balls, and other in game advertising. Not all of this can necessarily be avoided.
- 1 T.O. Drop.
- 1 Al Michael’s mixup, “Russ Grimm, Hall of Fame Bust.” Clearly, context is everything.
- 3 pts.
Without getting into the ESPN/NFL gossip machine, I am going to focus on the commentary of a typical match. Too many times last year, I was trying to watch the football game immediately on my screen. Lets say the Chicago Bears vs the Detroit Lions. All I heard from the commentators was “Brett Favre”, “I heard from so and so that this unvalidated rumor about one of the teams not playing in the current game is unvalidated but I’m going to talk about for the remainder of the quarter”, “T.O. Is killing the Bills”, “Brett Favre.” In the meantime, I reach for the mute button.
You have to trust me on this. When the season begins, just look for national narratives that have nothing to do with the current game buried within broadcast. It’s like the announcers have a quota to fill. Am I watching a football game or Entertainment Tonight?
Has it Peaked?
With the two problems outlined, the NFL risks alienating its casual viewers and alienating its real fans through greed. I can forsee the NFL doing both, especially with a lockout on the horizon. This will be detrimental, and hard for them to recover. It’s safe to say we may have already experienced the NFL’s peak.
With the problems outlined, here are three simple solutions to improve the gameplay of the NFL.
- Have a set number of commercial breaks per game. My recommendation is somewhere around eight. It still seems like a lot but with the amount of time game naturally stops, I can vouch for one commercial per quarter, and then one break in between the quarters. Thats a lot better than six per quarter or 24 commercial breaks per game (or average 3 commercials per break and thats a lot of time wasted).
- Also my very unofficial study revealed there were 11 minutes that the clock wasn’t running. I think the game needs to be sped up. Not having as many commercial breaks will help, but they need to get more plays in per quarter. I recommend a 24 second play clock, down from 35. This will effectively render the huddle useless. Don’t all the QB’s in the league change the play at the line of scrimmage anyway?
- Fire every TV broadcaster unless they say the following pledge:
“I do solemnly swear to not bring up the name of Brett Favre, unless he is playing in the current game. I also swear to focus my attention on the game on the field and not get carried away talking about teams not playing. I also will not bring up my past playing career.”
Oh, Phil Simms, your services will not be retained.
With these simple solutions the NFL can improve their product. You know what, they will still make a lot of money, but the fan experience will be better, and the gameplay will be faster and better. The telecasts a bit more bearable.
Speaking of the Bears I’d like to trademark the following sentence in anticipation for the upcoming season: “Exciting Bears Offense.™” It’s a strange idea, I know, but I can only hope and hope to cash in. I’d like to conclude with a toast or benediction:
During this autumn, may you enjoy the wonder of fat guys prancing and galavanting across the open gridiron in search of football immortality, because it may not last.