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An NFL game is 60 minutes by the rulebook. It takes at least 3 hours on the air. How much of this time involves actual play on the field? A recent study says about 11 minutes.

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.

Americans love football. But there is actually very little of it during a game.

Football--at least the American version--is the rare sport where it’s common for the clock to run for long periods of time while nothing is happening. After a routine play is whistled dead, the clock will continue to run, even as the players are peeling themselves off the turf and limping back to their huddles. The team on offense has a maximum of 40 seconds after one play ends to snap the ball again. A regulation NFL game consists of four quarters of 15 minutes each, but because the typical play only lasts about four seconds, the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.

So enjoy those 660 seconds, that 1/6 of an hour, that 1 moment of action for 10 moments of inaction. But while you are on the couch this weekend try to do something productive during the commercials.

HT: Joe Carter


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18 thoughts on “Enjoy Those 11 Minutes This Weekend”

  1. Kevin says:

    Ha ha! What a cool article Kevin, I’ve never really thought about it but as I was reading I was thinking, “man that’s right…I’m usually sitting there watching more inactivity then activity then all of a sudden, huh? I’m watching a dog dancing drinking a bud.” Living in Europe ruined me from American football, I can take or leave it. However, give me tickets to watch soccer or rugby? Watch out!

  2. Very interesting… that must explain why I usually grab a book to read during the games. I bet baseball is the same amount of time. This makes me appreciate basketball a lot more.

  3. Stephen Ley says:

    Following up Kevin’s comment…I love American football, but this points out one of the reasons why football a/k/a soccer is truly the beautiful game. Looking forward to World Cup 2010!

  4. Brady McCain says:

    That’s why I DVR most games and utilize the 30 second skip button in between plays. I usually skip halftime too! I’ve watched 3 hour games in as little as 50 minutes… leaving me over 2 hours of time to… to… to watch 2 more football games!

  5. Peter says:

    Time to start watch European football (soccer)….

  6. Erik says:

    Now that was an eye-opener.

    Brady [above] is right: DVR is the way to go, that is, if you don’t care about watching the game live.

  7. Terry says:

    I like the commercials, too.

  8. choppie says:

    I too live in Europe. Futbol(as soccer is spelled here in Sweden) is ok, and I marvel at the time those players can remain active, but I look forward to the live showing of the American Superbowl every year, even though it usually begins at midnight here. :) Of course that could be that I am a diehard Steelers fan, and have enjoyed many times with my Terrible Towel. Still, I miss American football, and would love to see much more of it each season.

  9. Jeff Kerr says:

    Just one more reason why hockey is a far superior sport.

  10. Joe Lamay says:

    It’s called TVO or DVR so you don’t have to watch the commercials.

  11. Phil Baiden says:

    What would football be like if they got rid of all the padding and only had 11 players per team? As in, there wasn’t an offense and a defense.

    I ask as a curious Englishman.

  12. mac says:

    The commercials in football are the most annoying aspect. The worst is when they run three minutes of ads then comeback for one play and run three more minutes of ads. I was an avid watcher of football, but the time away from the game is excessive these days, so I DVR. Plus, the announcers seem to be less skilled and flat.

  13. Alfons Beisser says:

    Let’s see then, a 6 hour chess match probably only has about 10 minutes of ‘action’ too, right? But watching a chess match can be fun if you really know how to play, and try to slip into the shoes of one or both players. Football is a lot like that, but a gazillion times better, that’s why it’s fun to watch — if you know the game.

    There is so much more to football than 5 seconds bursts with the ball is “in play”. Football is a the king of spectator sports because there is a great pacing that mixes a nice combination of watching and thinking for the spectator who knows and loves the game. There is a perfect amount of time in between snaps to think about down and distance, game situation, watch a replay, and listen (hopefully) to some thoughtful and humorous analysis. When one is in the crowd, it’s even better because you can see the whole field, along with personnel substitutions (know the players and keep those roster cards handy), etc. In between snaps there is a ton of cat and mouse between defense and offense; deception and intrigue; setting up the opponent for taking a shot later in the game… and then, the ball is snapped and it’s an explosion of action; man on man battles of strength and execution and athletic skill with such potential on every play for something big and game changing to happen.

    Basketball, soccer, hockey, etc. all are a completely different type of experience.

    Live or on TV, I think American football is the best spectator sport by far, IMHO. I you want to read a book between plays, then you’re missing out. I do like DVRing and fast forwarding through the inane commercials.

  14. Bob says:

    Did a quick comp on a round of professional golf.

    72 (shots per round)
    *7 (seconds per shot – liberal perhaps)

    504 seconds (8.4 minutes) of play in 5 hours = 2.8% play time vs. elapsed time.

  15. Alfons Beisser says:

    Love golf as well, both playing and watching. Baseball too.

  16. B. Minich says:

    I enjoy watching football, and even the fact that there’s only about 11 minutes of action. A lot of the rest (besides the ridiculous commercials) is, in a good game, building up suspense. You are being prepped for something to happen. The worst games are when nothing ever does, and play is just sloppy. The best are when the buildup pays off.

  17. Joe Horn says:

    I respect soccer players as athletes, but the actual game as a spectator sport? You’ve got to be kidding. When a “really good” game is decided by penalty kicks? Be serious. American football is about power and elegance, brute force and honed skills, about wearing down your opposing line by coming for them full throttle on every down. It’s a slightly safer version of armed conflict, involving both the cerebral (see Manning, Peyton), and the muscular (see Butkus, Dick). Those 11 minutes, at least during an evenly matched game, are among the most spectacular in all of sport. Soccer? Meh. Hockey? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason why there’s 4x the number of seats in a typical NFL arena… Give me American football. Give it to me on DVR, but give me those 11 minutes of spectacular awesomeness!

  18. michael fitzpatrick says:

    how did you come up w/ your 11 minute number?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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