Football is America’s favorite sport but the average NFL broadcast doesn’t actually contain much football:
The NFL’s popularity is all the more remarkable when you inspect the fare it has to offer each week on television. An average professional football game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes, but if you tally up the time when the ball is actually in play, the action amounts to a mere 11 minutes…
The 11 minutes of action was famously calculated a few years ago by the Wall Street Journal. Its analysis found that an average NFL broadcast spent more time on replays (17 minutes) than live play. The plurality of time (75 minutes) was spent watching players, coaches, and referees essentially loiter on the field.
An average play in the NFL lasts just four seconds.
Of course, watching football on TV is hardly just about the game; there are plenty of advertisements to show people, too. The average NFL game includes 20 commercial breaks containing more than 100 ads. The Journal’s analysis found that commercials took up about an hour, or one-third, of the game.
As this piece correctly notes, this is partly due to the rules of the game where there is down time between plays. At the same time, the NFL broadcasts go out of their way to add commercial breaks. Consider a sequence like this: touchdown scored, kick the extra point, commercial break, kickoff, commercial break. This happens all the time.
For contrast, watch high school or lower level college football. These games still have breaks between plays but the drop-off in wasted time for commercials is astounding.
One other note: if it weren’t for all the commercials, would the networks still show football games?