Earlier this season, viewership for NFL games was down from several of the past seasons, which made some in the media and sports’ writers trying to pinpoint reasons for the decline. Some may say that watching the NFL is bittersweet. On one hand, the unpredictability of the outcome can be incredibly exciting to watch and experience. However, there are so many breaks and interruptions during the game so these interruptions may have reduce the viewing experience over the past several years, if not longer.
I could write a 10,000-word expose on why viewership has suffered, especially earlier this season. However, my focus here is to suggest some minor improvements the NFL and TV networks could do to improve NFL viewership.
Let’s begin with the two-minute warning. This has been part of the NFL for many years. I’d suggest two options with the two-minute warning; you either abolish it completely or shorten it to 30 or 45 seconds. Said differently, there are often timeouts and the two-minute warning sandwiched together at the end of the first and second halves, it often impacts the flow. From my understanding, the original intent was to inform both coaches there was 2 minutes left in the half or game. Years ago, they didn’t have access to today’s technology and many stadiums didn’t have scoreboards available or there weren’t consistent and reliable ways to inform head coaches of the amount of time left. Today, it’s a new world. If you must, stop the clock with two minutes to play in each half and spend no more than 45 seconds informing the coaches of the time remaining. During this short period, the broadcasters could talk about what has transpired so far, provide some game stats or go to a brief commercial. Either way, the game flow is increased as less time is spent away from those crucial points of the game.
The second improvement would focus on the length of timeouts. Typically, the last few minutes of a half may take 10 minutes or more to actually play (with the two-minute warning and three timeouts per team per half). This greatly slows down actual play, and often you limp into halftime having seen more TV ads than actual gridiron action. Once the first half is over, the ads don’t stop, you often have 4 minutes of actual content within a 15-minute half time show. You don’t have to be math challenged to realize almost 75% if the half produces the same type of commercials you saw leading up to halftime. You may get 4 minutes of analysis, scores and highlights. This phenomenon sometimes applies to the end of game too. Several years ago, you didn’t have social media and so many platforms in which to get scores and highlights. How people get their NFL information and action has significantly changed although the design of the halftime show hasn’t. It may be time to disrupt that aspect of the telecast too.
Getting back to timeouts, shorten two of the timeouts to 45 seconds and if necessary, go to a short commercial break for one. For the third timeout, stipulate no more than 30 seconds, these small tweaks could also keep the flow of the game going, especially during critical phases of the telecast.
One more thing, be quick about the challenges and reviews. This doesn’t just apply to the end of the half or game, but a two minute or more challenge just drags the game even more — especially if it’s interspersed with timeouts and the two minute warning.
Today, some viewers have a difficult time stomaching the last few minutes of both halves. so these suggested changes would help target this. These small “tweaks” are things the NFL can control and could conceivably change. There’s one stoppage of play you can’t control, injuries. I’d be the last person to suggest you drag the injured player off the field after several seconds of evaluation. Some are minor and may not require a commercial break and others are more serious and can involve 2-3 minutes of commercials. Of course, this is outside the control of the NFL. That’s even more reason to evaluate other stoppages of play that you can control to improve the viewing experience to make it more customer centric.
One more suggestion if you want to improve the entire games’ viewing experience and that’s to take a page from soccer where they have ads on part of the screen during play. Perhaps if the NFL was concerned about viewership and a little less focus on their financials, they could implement this approach during major parts of the game. In addition, having fewer commercials and a better flow to the game may motivate viewers to be less likely to record part or all of the game and then just skip through all the commercials.
One other thing to help speed up the game and provide a better viewing experience. Do not, I repeat do not allow any of the networks to go to commercial after a kickoff – especially if it’s a touchback in the end zone. It’s ridiculous that many times TV networks will take a commercial timeout after the receiving team downs the football in the end zone.
I’m not crazy about networks advertising products or future shows during the game, however, if my other suggestions were implemented, I’d be more inclined to accept a reasonable amount of commercials for each of the four quarters.