December 29, 2010
By Brian Spencer
You can do better than this, NFL. A lot better.
I’m referring to the NFL Viewing Experience, which has become somewhat insufferable and nearly demanding of DVR usage. I understand that commercials and corporate sponsorships have regretfully become an accepted part of pop culture, and that all of those god-awful advertisements that are pounded into our heads every Sunday and Monday are, to a degree, a necessary evil: I don’t especially want to pay anything extra to watch football on FOX, CBS, ESPN, and NBC, and I’m guessing you don’t either. (Of course, commercials still run even if you buy the NFL Sunday Ticket.)
That said, the commercial breaks have gotten out of control and are seriously distracting from the on-field product; I’ve never spoken with anybody who disagreed with me. It’s even gotten to the point where corporate entities, like ESPN, have allegedly interfered with the organic flow of the game–or as organic as it can be with plenty of unnecessary commercial breaks already baked in–by asking coaches to use all of their time outs, regardless of the score.
That’s insane. Again, for whatever reason Americans, in particular, have come to accept commercials–and now even celebrate them, which is something I’ll never understand–but enough is enough.
Last night I used a stopwatch to time all of the advertisement time during NBC’s primetime broadcast of the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Minnesota Vikings. I started with the first commercial break once the game began, and included any and all ads that ran without any mention of football or without the camera on the field or in the broadcast booth; in other words, I kept the timer running when, for example, it cut back to aerial shots of Lincoln Financial Field as Al Michaels ran down a list of the commercial sponsors.
This was a painful endeavor that required heavy usage of the mute button. After all, one can only watch and listen to, for example, Hyundai’s dreadful pair of quirky hipsters dance around and shill for a mega billion-dollar company so many times… and, believe me, if you watched the entire game you had about 100 opportunities to see the ad. If you’ve watched any amount of football since mid-November, you’ve probably seen it 1,000 times.
Eyeballs Rolling Back in Head
I think that’s what gets me more than anything: the sheer volume of ads that are dominated by a very small number of companies. We see the same ads over and over and over again, sometimes within the same commercial break; it’s not good for my blood pressure. After awhile, the repetition lulls you into a semi-comotose state–you’re of course already there if you happen to be watching a Cardinals or 49ers game for some reason–and by the time the third quarter rolls around, your brain feels mushy, useless, a sponge ripe for the pitching.
I guess that’s the point: don’t think, just buy. Buy our products, and buy into the terrible cliches we attach those products to. I know I’m just another voice in the well-established chorus that sings the evil of commercials, but it’s disgusting, it really is, and it impacts society on more of a subconscious level than most realize. That’s a bigger discussion than what I purport to tackle here, so for the purposes of this piece, it comes down to this: we shouldn’t have to feel so fucking dumbed down every time we watch sports.
Maybe you can turn off that aspect of the broadcast and ignore it, but I can’t.
The Eagles-Vikings game kicked off just past 8pm and lasted until 11:20, so including halftime it was roughly a 3:20 broadcast. By the time all the ads touting expensive cars, piss-grade beer, fatty foods, overpriced diamonds, and the new shows on NBC bound to be canceled by the end of spring (Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates? Really?) were over with, viewers had been exposed to just under 47 minutes of commercials and advertisements. NFL games last for 60 minutes, at least in terms of the running clock, so technically we only saw 13 more minutes of football than we did commercials.
This is unacceptable, and though primetime games are notoriously dragged on longer than they should be, running over 45 minutes of commercials is not atypical for your average NFL broadcast. I’d assert that this was about average given that there were fewer injury time outs than usual and just a handful of challenges.
Think about that: 47 minutes of commercials. I don’t know how many individual spots that comes out to, but most ads are only 15 – 30 seconds long, tops. Again, I’m not pretending that totally eradicating commercials is a viable action, but the NFL and the networks that broadcast their games are hugely popular and profitable entities, and probably always will be. The advertisements are excessive, insulting, and have much too much impact on the game.
I watched parts of Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants from my hotel room in Berlin, Germany. In the United States, millions of people actually can’t wait to see the Super Bowl commercials; it’s not just the super bowl of football, it’s the super bowl of advertising. But guess how many commercial breaks I endured during the broadcast in Germany? Zero until halftime. Zero. It was amazing, the most sedate, enjoyable half of football I’ve ever seen.
Give Us a Break
We don’t need extended stoppages of play and commercial breaks after every fucking punt or kickoff; we definitely don’t need them after the extra point is kicked and after the ensuing kickoff. The camera should stay on the field between most changes of possession, during which the announcers should regale us with interesting facts and stats about the two teams we’re watching; I realize that with guys like Matt Millen, Joe Buck, and Troy Aikman in the booths, that’s a stretch. A coach’s challenge should not always equal a commercial break; an injured player on the field should not always mean an injury commercial break.
These little things add up over the course of an entire game and bring us to that 47 minutes number. What’s a reasonable amount? 30 minutes would be a step in the right direction. That might still seem like a lot of commercials–and it is–but that’d roughly translate to “just” 5 minutes or so of ads per quarter if allowing for more to run during halftime. Something tells me the NFL and its partners would still be pulling a handsome coin if they cut their ad time by 17 minutes. Advertisers would have no choice but to get over the fact that their ad–the same one we’ve already seen all season long–is only going to run 10 times instead of 25 times.
Is this too much to ask, NFL?
For all of your sport’s inherent flaws, rulebook inconsistencies and banalities, etc., god help us we still love the on-field product. We might not always like how it tastes or how it smells, but we live it and breathe it and often obsess about it for months. The commercial nature of the game, however, and the impact you allow it to have has grown tiresome. You can do better, and we deserve better.