The Average NFL Fan Will Watch 23.5 Hours of Commercials This Season

NFL commercials per game

Peyton Manning and JJ Watt in a Papa John’s commercial; image credit: Sports Studio

After a six-year hiatus, Hank Williams Jr. is returning to Monday Night Football this NFL season, again asking America, “Are you ready for some football?”

But basic math shows the country singer should be asking us more about our appetite for some commercials.

The average NFL fan will watch nearly 24 hours of commercials during the 17-week regular season — that’s a full day’s worth of commercials. And to make matters worse, they’ll see only 4 hours of actual game action. Those numbers, based on a Streaming Observer analysis, come at a time when NFL ratings are in a significant decline, perhaps largely in part due to the high volume of commercials that provide the league with about $3.1 billion annually.

 

NFL Commercials By The Numbers

average nfl broadcast commercials

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

The average NFL fan watches 4.2 hours (252 minutes) of games per week, according to a new survey from Sportsfacts.org. That number more than doubles to 8.7 hours per week if you play fantasy football.

The Wall Street Journal a few years back did a study of what’s actually included in an average NFL TV broadcast. The paper found an average game runs 3 hours and 11 minutes (191 minutes total). During that time, commercials take up 32.98 percent of the broadcast, which is about 63 minutes. Shots of players standing around and shots of the crowd take up 102 minutes. Instant replays take up about 15 minutes.

That leaves only 11 minutes of actual game action (play after the snap). That’s right. You’re actually only watching 11 minutes total of Tom Brady launching a touchdown pass, Von Miller stuffing a running back or the Cleveland Browns turning the ball over. Of course, the maneuvering before the ball is snapped is still game play, but it doesn’t fall under “game action” and many would argue that the NFL suffers from a pace of play issue. Remember, the median college football game average 74 plays per game, while NFL teams average closer to 64 plays per game.

These numbers have held constant over the years, and if anything the number of commercials is only increasing.

Let’s do some math:

The average fan watches 252 minutes of NFL games per week.

We’re going to multiply 252 by 0.3298 (the percentage of commercial time in the average game), which comes out to 83.1. That’s 83.1 minutes of commercials the average fan is watching each week during NFL games.

If you multiply 83.1 minutes by 17 — the number of weeks in the regular season — you’ll see that the average fan watches 1,412.86 minutes of commercials per season. Divided by 60, that’s 23.5 hours of commercials. We’ll round up to 24 hours to keep the numbers simple. Yes, during a full NFL regular season, the average fan will watch an entire day’s worth of commercials during the games.

Now, let’s go back to that 11 minutes of game action number the average NFL fan watches each week.

Based on the original statistic that the average fan watches 4.2 hours (252 minutes) of NFL games each week, actual game action (the 11-minute number) makes up 5.8 percent.

252 X 0.058 = 14.51 minutes of game action per week.

Multiply that by 17 and you get 246.67. Divide that number by 60, and you see that the average fan watches just 4.1 hours of game action over the course of a full season.

 

Should NFL Executives Be Worried?

While NFL ratings are down, team owners and broadcast executives aren’t exactly sweating. The NFL is huge. A bad week is still miles ahead of its next closest competitor. Look at the top 10 most watched programs over a weekend during the NFL season and there’s a good chance that three of the big games and the pre- and post-shows make up for than 50 percent of the slots.

But the NFL should be cautious.

First, let’s discuss commercials. Plain and simple, games are too long because of them. A Denver Post sports columnist earlier this year made a similar connection. Commercials provide the $3.1 billion the league gets from the networks each year, he said, creating a “Cash-22” situation.

“In other words, the more the networks pay the league, the more commercials are needed and the more commercials can cut into viewership.”

The other reason for declining ratings are viewing habits. We live in a Netflix world where less and less live television programming is being consumed. Up until this point, professional and college sports has remained immune, but the tide could be changing.

Cord-cutters are growing, which means less people have cable or satellite services. And while most NFL games are on broadcast networks that can be watched over-the-air for free using an antenna, only a small fraction of people actually take advantage of the airwaves. The NFL’s live streaming service is giving fans the opportunity to watch games on-demand after the fact, but that may not be enough.

RELATED: How to Watch the NFL Online without Cable

NFL TV contracts run up in 2021 and 2022. At that time, expect some interesting plays from some big players in the digital space, namely, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. If those tech companies can come up with a way to make the commercial experience less time-consuming, but just as valuable, then maybe we expect some rate-of-play changes coming to the NFL, just as there has been in the MLB and NBA.

“In a world where Netflix has no commercials and consumers are used to 15 seconds of pre-roll, is there a better way to do commercials with our broadcast partners?” NFL Media executive Brian Rolapp asked in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable.

In other words, there’s a multi-billion dollar problem to solve.

Big changes likely won’t come this season, although there have been reports that the dreaded touchdown-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence may end soon. In fact, expect the sheer number of commercials to increase, according to this Business Insider analysis.

Are you ready for some commercials?

Andrew Dodson

Andrew Dodson is a journalist from Michigan who writes for MLive.com, the state's top online news source. Email him at andrewdodson@streamingobserver.com.
Disclosure: Streaming Observer is supported by readers. Articles may contain referral links. For more information, see the disclosure at the bottom of the page.

1 Comment on "The Average NFL Fan Will Watch 23.5 Hours of Commercials This Season"

  1. This is a case of “lying with statistics” by not counting players standing-around as game time. By this logic, even if you see a game live at the stadium, you’re only spending ~10% of your time seeing the actual PLAY, and the other 90% waiting.

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