No more commercial-kickoff-commercial drudgery, for one.
In 2016, the average time it took to broadcast a standard 60-minute NFL game was more than three hours. With ratings suddenly in a spiral, commissioner Roger Goodell has a plan to change that.
On Wednesday, Goodell released a letter addressed simply to “Fans” to preview the league’s new system to make game times more manageable. Revamped advertising schedules and a number of in-game changes aim to make the game-watching experience simpler and more enjoyable for fans at stadiums across the country as well as at home.
The commissioner was careful not to insult the league’s advertising partners, but did his best to ensure others he feels their pain when it comes to excessive commercial time during an NFL broadcast. It was marginally less robotic than his typical interaction with common folk.
“Together with our broadcast partners, we will be working to meaningfully reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game,” wrote Goodell. “We will also be giving our broadcast partners increased flexibility to avoid untimely breaks in the action. For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that too. Our goal is to eliminate it.”
Goodell expanded on this plan in an interview with USA Today reporter Tom Pelissero.
“We have seen commercialization maybe creep into the game in areas that we don’t think is appropriate,” Goodell told him. “And we’re going to work with our network partners to try to pull that back, to make sure that we can create that compelling experience for our fans.”
While there won’t be less advertising in 2017, it will be more strongly concentrated. Instead of having five or six commercial breaks per quarter, fans will only be subjected to four per period. However, those breaks will be, on average, 27 percent longer — switching from 1:40 per ad block to 2:10.
Forcing fans to wait five whole minutes for the privilege of watching a six-second touchback isn’t the only annoyance the league hopes to erase. Clubs will have the opportunity to vote on a new rule next week that would centralize the replay process at league headquarters, thereby speeding up the inevitable delay that follows the ominous appearance of a challenge flag on the turf.
Goodell and his associates also have a handful of new dead-ball timing rules that could cut up to five minutes from broadcast times in 2017.
“We’re going to institute a play clock following the extra point when television does not take a break, and we’re considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown,’ the Commissioner boasted. “We’re also going to standardize the starting of the clock after a runner goes out-of-bounds, and standardize halftime lengths in all games, so we return to the action as quickly as possible.”
Cutting back on commercials and superfluous on-field breaks is one way to cut through the interminable slog of the NFL’s regular season slate. However, Goodell failed to address the other league force that’s driving fans away — inexplicable primetime matchups. Monday Night Football showdowns between the Rams and 49ers or the Colts and Jets could have been broadcast commercial-free and still tanked in the ratings.
Only two Thursday Night Football games featured two playoff teams squaring off, and one of them hinged on the performance of Brock Osweiler at quarterback. While Goodell may be right that fans are upset with their game watching experience, the issue isn’t solely one of timing and sponsored breaks. The league tried to sell lackluster games as blockbusters in 2016; fixing that problem doesn’t have anything to do with consolidating ad time.