As far as spectator sports go, I’m a football dude. I pay attention to basketball from time to time, and baseball during the playoffs (if the Phillies are in it), but if it’s fall or winter, and I’m only gonna watch one thing on television that week, then odds are, it’s gonna be football — most likely, the NFL. Having seen a lot, suffice it to say I was stunned when I saw this from the Wall Street Journal:
According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.
In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg. In fact, the average telecast devotes 56% more time to showing replays.
So what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast? Not surprisingly, commercials take up about an hour. As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps. In the four broadcasts The Journal studied, injured players got six more seconds of camera time than celebrating players. While the network announcers showed up on screen for just 30 seconds, shots of the head coaches and referees took up about 7% of the average show.
That’s amazing. I know a lotta people who say football is an overrated sport will have a field day with these numbers. But what I would say to them (not what I will say, because I really don’t know anybody who completely dislikes football) is this: the time that pieces are actually moving during a chess match is miniscule compared to the time it takes to complete a game. While football is a lot more physical, it is very much a strategic game along the lines of chess. No skilled chess player just moves pieces willy-nilly all over the board so they can have more time with pieces moved, they take their time and select the right move based on the situation. Same thing here. A football coach changes plays and player packages based on the moves he wants to give himself the option to make.
(As a side note, I often wonder how baseball managers get to be known as tacticians for moving players around the infield or putting a right handed pitcher against a left-handed batter, but football coaches are not thought of as tacticians in the same way, when they actually call specific plays designed to exploit the opponent’s weakness.)