This week I, like many American sports enthusiasts, am consumed with thoughts of the NFL playoffs continuing this weekend and the Superbowl that will commence soon afterward. Sadly the team I tend to root for in the postseason is no longer around, (Philadelphia Eagles), but there are of course still four interesting and well-tested teams to observe. The television broadcasting of these games will be tremendously important to the vast majority of football fans who will not be able to physically watch these upcoming games.
In the context of this dependence, a recent pictorial I saw in The Wall Street Journal is very interesting. It related average statistics for an NFL broadcast of a game as 11 minutes of action, 75 minutes of commercials, 67 minutes of players standing around, 17 minutes of replays, three seconds of cheerleaders. I won’t focus too much on the numbers or statistics present and calculable here, but I will mention these are obviously simplified and do not go into the degree of detail possible. While simple, however, these numbers certainly bring up an interesting aspect of the National Football League, which is one of the most popular sports broadcasters in the nation. What it shows is a phenomenon that occurs for two important reasons. The first reason is that American football is largely a game of planning where the ball is not in play for any substantial amount of time. This explains the small amount of “action.” But with the ball in play for so little time there must be a second reason that can explain the exaggerated length of time each game is on TV. This second reason is that the NFL makes a great deal of its money by selling commercial time. So successfully in fact that Superbowl time slots are among the most expensive each year.
I bring up this picture because it inspired me to think about football and other sports in ways I previously hadn’t. It didn’t bother me, because although the time allocation hadn’t explicitly occurred to me before it wasn’t shocking because I’ve taken in my share of games leaving me subconsciously prepared for the numbers I’d experienced before without active consideration. Professional football is successful in spite of these amazing numbers, which shows how enamored we really are with the game. We are willing to sit around and wait for those special moments that happen between commercials and time outs. We endure beer commercials and shots of dangerously heavy coaches to view appealing catches and hard-fought carries. Other sports like hockey and soccer where there is more raw action in each match are of course excellent in different ways, however, professional football is inspiring in its ability to captivate audiences so they will put up with extreme waiting to grab its incredible performances. It’s at least clear people aren’t watching for the cheerleaders.
As a final note, I would like to predict the winners this weekend will be the Colts and the Saints.