The National Football League dominates the U.S. sports landscape, both in terms of the size of its fan base and the wealth it produces. The Super Bowl is a bonanza of advertising dollars and ticket sales, with single 30 second advertisements going for $4 million, and an estimated $120 million being wagered on the outcome of the game. This is no accident, but the result of nearly a half century of carefully choreographed interplay between the networks that broadcast the game and the NFL. Simply put: American football and television grew up together and maintain a highly symbiotic relationship.
It now has the U.K. plainly in its sights, with 4 regular season games scheduled for London over the next few years. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has strongly hinted that either Los Angeles or London are at the top of its list for a future home of a new or transplanted NFL team. The recent game at Wembley between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders saw 85,000 fans pay an average of £100 per ticket for the privilege of watching the game live.
With the prospect of a permanent team taking up residence in London, it is interesting to note that the average play on the field is only 11 minutes. This provides a unique opportunity and challenge to broadcasters who have to fill 185 minutes of on air time with something that will keep the viewers glued to their sets and thus justifying the high price of the advertisements. And they do it well.
To break it down: 11 minutes of actual running, blocking, throwing, catching, tackling, and kicking is surrounded by an additional 174 minutes of men standing around, cheerleaders hopping around, commentators commenting on the previous 10 second burst of violence and athleticism, and lastly, but most importantly, the TV ads. In a typical NFL broadcast, 60 minutes is taken up by commercials, 75 minutes is spent with the players standing around. All in all, the seconds of actual game action are outnumbered by inaction by a ratio of ten to one.
To Britain, accustomed to constant action sports like Rugby or Football, the NFL’s stop and go mode of play based around a television audience seems doomed to failure; however, the increasing interest and success of the NFL in the UK echoes Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s belief that “where there is a will, there’s a way.” As long as there is a profit in sight, there is certainly a will on the part of the NFL.