I really do enjoy a number of different sports. Having relatively recently been able to watch a decent amount of NFL in a way which was hitherto unavailable, I have enjoyed a good deal of American Football too. Thank you, Sky Sports. Now, part of the reason people who are used to watching rugby or football (aka soccer) often struggle with the US version of the same name, is that it is just so stop-start. I mean, the stoppages are built into the game, from turnovers, to flags, to quarter breaks, to the two-minute warning. Now, I propose no solution to this issue, nor do I insinuate that such a solution is necessary (to say nothing about desirable); no, my point is to analyse the relative 'value', in terms of game time to non-game time watched, provide a comparison.
What I mean is this: say you are sitting down with a beer, about to watch a game, and you find yourself wondering, 'just how much crap am I going to have to watch during the course of this match?' By my use of the highly-technical term 'crap', I mean anything that isn't the game itself, such as advertisements, punditry (informative or otherwise), or the players standing around waiting for something to happen or arguing with the referee. I admit that I am going to be dealing in averages and imprecise figures here, since rugby uses a stopped clock, players argue with a referee for differing amounts of time, and NFL games don't all have the same length. This is a necessary evil, but I think I can give enough of a picture to provide some satisfaction. I am also assuming the aforementioned beer-wielding man turns his TV on at then precise moment a game begins, ignoring things like anthems, cheerleaders, or the haka. For the purposes of this article, I will also ignore games which require overtime or extra time.
1) Football (aka soccer):
A football game is scheduled for ninety minutes, with fifteen minutes for half time. There is also added time in either half, but since this added time is intended to compensate for stoppages during play itself, I am going to use ninety minutes as our basic figure, and add the stoppages to the 'crap' category. I am going to assume an average of six minutes of added time per match, that's three minutes per half. Therefore, if a match is watched completely, the viewer has ninety minutes of sport time, and twenty one minutes of 'crap' (fifteen minutes for half time plus six minutes for stoppages).
This leads to a ratio of 90:21, or 30:7. This can also be expressed as 4.29:1, and it means that for every four and a half minutes of sport the man (or woman, let's be fair) watches, he also has to watch a minute of crap.
2) Rugby (aka rugby union)
Rugby is only eighty minutes to football's ninety, and what's more the play clock is stopped during breaks in play or when the video referee is being consulted, making things a little more tricky to calculate. With the problems around the modern scrum, I estimate this stoppage time at around four minutes per half, for a total of eight minutes. A rugby half time is ten minutes, for a crap total of eighteen minutes.
This leads to a ratio of 80: 18, or 4.44:1. Pretty similar to football, and if you take into consideration the fact that in rugby you don't have to put up with scenes of players falling to the ground in agony only to be fine again moments later, or surrounding the referee to complain about a decision, rugby creeps ahead in the watchability stakes (but that's another argument).
3) American Football (aka gridiron)
The duration of play time for an NFL game is 60 minutes. The half time lasts 12 minutes, and the quarter breaks each also involve short stoppages of 2 minutes. So far that's 16 minutes. However, I'm going to take a different approach on this entry, because the timekeeping in an NFL game involves both the game clock and the play clock, and the many rules are too complicated for me to go into here. What I want to do is compare the play time (60 minutes), with the average duration (slightly over three hours). Therefore, the crap total is about 120 minutes (i.e. 180 minus 60).
This leads to a ratio of 60:120, or 1:2. This means that for every minute of play an NFL fan watches, he or she also watches two minutes of crap. This is a far smaller reward for effort (if by effort you assume I mean couch time), than either of the previous two entries. I believe this accounts for much of the difficulty in selling the NFL to a British or European public.
Now, as I have mentioned, American Football is built around the system of plays and downs, and this is part of what makes the game so enjoyable. However, if some of the extraneous viewing could be weeded out, it might make it more palatable to those who have grown up watching more fast-paced games (which is certainly on the NFL's agenda, at least in the UK). Dammit, I said I wasn't going to look at solutions. Oh well, I got drawn in.
In closing, I enjoy all the above sports, and more, and of course there's more to a game than how many ads you have to suffer through, but I do feel that generally speaking, the less crap involved, the better.