NFL games lack real action—and they say baseball is a slow sport

January 27, 2010 at 5:25 am 2 comments

The typical NFL football game is over 3 hours long and has just 10 minutes and 43 seconds of play.

There is actually more instant replay—16 minutes worth—than play action on the gridiron. (Games aired on ESPN have an average of 24 minutes of replay.)

From the News Hub video extra that accompanies the WSJ article “11 minutes of action,” we learn that in an average NFL football game, around 67 minutes are of players standing around (including 4 minutes of players milling around the sidelines) and 6 minutes are of coaches consulting their playbooks.

Surprisingly, cheerleaders are given only only 3 seconds (!) of airtime. NBC’s Sunday Night Football producer is quoted as saying, “We make it a point to get Dallas cheerleaders on, but otherwise, it’s not really important. If we’re doing the Jets, I couldn’t care less.”

Announcers were on camera for only 30 seconds. Injured players received 6 more seconds of airtime than players who engaged in celebration after a particularly successful or big play.

At first, I thought that the demands and dynamics of commercial media, including the need to air commercials, might explain the fact that only 1/20th of the length of a football game is of players engaged in action on the field. But a study in 1912 by a professor at Indiana University found that even then, nearly 100 years ago, the typical football game had just 13 minutes of playing time.

One reason for such little action: the 10-to-1 ratio of time spent on strategy compared to execution. The NFL has a 40 second play clock, though the average play unfolds in just 4 seconds.

Nearly the entire 90 minutes of regulation in soccer, for comparison, is full of play action.


Entry filed under: play. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  January 27, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    This helps me to solve a riddle I’ve long wondered about – why I don’t enjoy watching football on TV. Thanks JR!

  • 2. Strategy Games Online  |  July 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve been surfing online greater than three hours today, yet I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours. It’s lovely worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the net will likely be much more useful than ever before.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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