- The Season's Over -

On Mushy Brains and the Excessively Commercial Nature of NFL Broadcasts

December 29, 2010

bleachers

Photos Credit: Icon SMI

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.

I Cannot Watch

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.

9 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Dec. 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

9 Responses

Hi there,

I live in Finland and as you who have visited Europe know, American Football isn’t very big here. However, as I have good ties to the US I have become to like the game.

So to my pleasure the finnish new sports channel 4 Pro 2 started to air NFL live. I was so waiting to see the first game, and the day came. I sat down on the couch and started watching (don’t remember the exact game anymore). After at few minutes of airing the sound disappeared. I thought, hmmm might be some problem with the overseas connection between Finland and the US.

I saw how the players where moving around on the field an so on. But no sound, after a while it returned. Fuck I said to my self when the sound disappeared after two seconds. The same thing again, and again and again and again…..

After I while I started to get it. As the 4 Pro 2 isn’t aired with local commentators, so when the Fox commentators went “offline” for commercials I only got the picture without commercials. So that explained the loss off sounds. When I lost the sound you in the US had to look at commercials.

After watching a few games I gave up. Even though I did’nt have to look at the commercials I could not stand the continuing interruptions to the game. I want to watch the game and not to be interrupted!

So, I went back to watch Finnish and European hockey, European football (soccer as you call it). Specially in soccer the teams such as Manchester Uniter, Real Madrin, FC Barcelona, Inte Milan and so on spend as much or even more money on players that do the teams in the NFL. Still I only get commercials during half-time brakes.

What in Europe is to be seen as similar to the Super Bowl is the Champions League finale i soccer. The biggest sporting event when it comes to viewers in Europe if I do not remember the fact wrong. During these 45 minute periods I only see commercials before the game, between the first and the secon period period brake and after the game. So a solid 45 minutes at a time without interruptions. Once again 45 minutes! no commercials! A big ass game with millions of viewers, expensive broadcasting licenses, million dollar players and 45 mins at a time without any commercials. That is sports!

So I really understand your frustration. I really do, and I hope that you in the US once more get to enjoy sports as i should be.

What the American broadcasters should do is to increase the price for the spots and have less of them. Or the American government could do as the European. Make legislation on how many minutes of commercials you are allowed to have within an hour. Here in Finland a broadcaster will get fined big time if they have more than the allowed amount of commercials within a specific time.

The same goes for the annoying sound levels that you talked about. In Finland and Sweden there are laws that prohibit the sound level of a commercial to be higher than the broadcast itself.

Br,

Rick

Posted by: Rick on January 9th, 2011 at 7:36 pm

[...] commercials aired.  Of course I can’t quantify this, but a quick google search seems to indicate this is not an unrealistic [...]

Posted by: Ad Spending Outlook 2011: With Football As My Guide… « Stone Street Advisors on January 24th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

[...] An article I found said there were 47 minutes of ads during a recent NFL broadcast.  (http://www.emptythebench.com/2010/12/29/on-the-commercial-nature-of-nfl-broadcats/)  That seems high, and also included network promos, so let’s use 30 minutes as a guide.  With [...]

Posted by: An Open Letter to the UFL : Mike's Random Musings on March 27th, 2011 at 1:58 am

[...] brew-dogs you already slurped down. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s over 45 minutes of commercials and advertisements in a 60 minute NFL game. Here are the major categories and some of the heavy-hitters that you’d expect to see during [...]

Posted by: Are You Ready For Some (Mind-Numbingly Bad) Football (Ads)? « brandvomit on September 9th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Brian you should be elected chairman of the board in any national effort to influence the NFL to decrease commercial breaks during games! Excellent factual article demonstrating how corporate greed once again exploits a popular product to a fault! They don’s seem to understand that pounding an advertisement into someone’s head repeatedly within a limited period of time does not make them want the product, and instead actually turns them off. So, lead on Mr. Chairman, maybe others will join us!

Posted by: Marvin on September 12th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I completely agree with everything said. I especially am getting sick of commercials after punts and kick-offs. Something has to change…

Posted by: Scott on November 17th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

THANK YOU! My biggest pet peeve watching football is touchdown, extra point, commercial, kickoff, commercial. Why?!?!?!?!?! Talk about sucking the life out of the game. Too bad the NFL doesn’t care.

Posted by: Dave on January 26th, 2012 at 10:18 am

I have been living in Germany for the past 4 years now and during this time have become a fan of the Bundesliga and Champions League. Being able to watch a 90 minute soccer game without any interruptions whatsoever (outside of halftime) is a great thing. I didn’t realize just how great it is until I tried to watch an NFL game on ESPN America recently. I sat in front of my TV and looked forward to watching a game which I have loved since growing up in the 80s. Well, I tried to get into the game but just could not do. The frequency and length of commercial breaks made it just impossible for me to stay interested in the game. As soon as things would start getting interesting – due to a TD, FG, turnover, etc. – the game would just stop for 5 minutes. I finally gave up an wound up turning the game off right before halftime. After a few years of becoming accustomed to watching European soccer where games aren’t stopped every 45 seconds for advertisements, I just decided that live is too short to spend caring about the NFL.
If the NFL has any intention of expanding interest in the sport to other countries then the are most definitely going about it the wrong way. I have heard from numerous Europeans who have tried to watch NFL games but also gave up after the first few extended commercial breaks. I hope that the NFL does something about this because it is absolutely ruining the sport.

Posted by: Frank on September 16th, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I’ve always thought that Monday Night Football fans in a cold weather climate such as Green Bay have to be the almost out of their minds. Paying to sit in the stands through endless interruptions in the game.

Posted by: Bruce on September 24th, 2012 at 10:46 am

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