The NFL and Time – How Much Playing Really Goes On

Daniel Ganninger
October 3, 2014

Gillette_Stadium1The big Sunday game is on and you’ve settled in to your comfy recliner for the afternoon battle between two league favorites.  With a chicken wing in one hand and a beer in the other you prepare for the endless action on the gridiron.  But there is something going on here.  Something that you probably don’t realize in amongst the endless commentaries, replays, reviews, commercials, and stats.  This game may appear long and full of action, but in reality, it adds up to the length of half a sit-com minus the commercials.  This is the true length of an NFL game.

There is a secret hidden during NFL games.  We may not realize it, but there is very little football that is actually played.  Yes, the players run around, return to the huddle and repeat, but the time that the players actual play the game is astoundingly small.  Eleven minutes.  Yup, in a 3-hour game, the time the ball is in play equals about eleven minutes.  It’s not anyone’s fault, that’s just the way the game is played.  I’m sure if you examined baseball (which should be taken into consideration) the time the ball is in play is probably even less.  That is not the case.  Baseball play time runs a little over 17 minutes for a 3-hour game.  But we’re talking about football, and this infographic will help to break it down for you, even if you want to watch every game.

nflandtimeHow are 3-hours of time with only eleven minutes of actual play still riveting on TV?  It’s a feat of television engineering.  Commercials take up most of it, but everyone needs to take a bathroom break and have time to grab their favorite beverage.  There is a little over an hour of commercials in a typical broadcast.  What else goes on?  The players do a lot of running and standing without doing anything with the ball.  About an hour of this goes on during a typical game.  There will be three minutes of reviews and about seventeen minutes of replays that relive the, on average, four second play.  Since replays can be put in slo-motion, this helps to increase their time on-screen.  There are approximately 133 plays in an NFL game, but this number varies on the state of the game.  An exciting end of half or end of game where a team is driving the field without doing the “run out the clock” scenario influences this number.  The cheerleaders get a lot of face time, right?  Actually, no.  They get a disappointing average of 3 seconds on the screen.  Darn.

The time in an NFL telecast is filled with countless other things to stretch out the broadcast–human interest stories, views of the stadium, players on the sideline, fans in the stands, views of the commentators, stats, halftime, etc, etc.  The networks have become wizards at gluing us to our TVs’ and filling 2 hours and 49 minutes of time with no actual football action, spending $150,000 to $250,000 per telecast.

Now what if you don’t have the time to watch all your favorite games.  It’s possible to do so, if you had a way to break every game down to just when the football was in action.  To watch every NFL in a given week, you would only need to devote 2.9 hours, about the time of one typical, full NFL game.  That’s sixteen games in under three hours.  All the action without any distractions.  To watch the entire regular NFL season, all 208 games, you would need to be a little more devoted and spend a total of 38 hours.  Could be done in a month.  For that same time you could opt to watch one full game, every week for the entire regular season.  That would be thirteen games.  If you’re super hardcore about your NFL football, and wanted to see every game of the regular season in their entirety, then you would need to set aside 603 hours or 25 days.  I hope you have some sick time you can use from work.

But the point of football, and probably what makes it so popular on TV, is the drama, the endless commentary about each play, and how the flow of the game changes in a heartbeat.  The replays don’t hurt either.  So you have a choice, record the game on your DVR and watch only the plays, saving yourself two hours and forty-nine minutes of your life.  Or grab another chicken wing and settle in to watch the pageantry and the show, even if it might mean you only get to see that one game for the week.

Feel free to share the infographic on Facebook, Pintrest, or Twitter and give your thoughts below on how much time you devote to watching the “big game”.  Oh, and remember to get some salad in your diet after eating all those chicken wings.

If you get tired of watching all those football games, maybe give these other sports a try.

Sources: WSJ, Sports on Earth