Super Bowl XLVI, despite Madonna’s best efforts, was a resounding success. While low-scoring, the game was exciting as games that come down to the last play always are. People are still talking about Clint Eastwood’s pep talk and how Matthew Broderick has lost his relevance. Football is as popular as ever and all is right in America.
Or is it?
There’s no question that football, and the NFL in particular, continues to be a TV rating juggernauts. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Sunday’s game had a 47.8 rating, mean it was seen in 47.8% of U.S. households. That sounds good and all, until you recall that last year’s game had a 47.9 rating. Plus, 47.8% means that 52.2%, a clear majority, did not watch the game.
There is another ***** in the armor: Nielsen reported that ESPN’s ‘Monday Night Football’ dropped almost ten percent in the ratings in 2011.
So is the NFL in a dire situation? Absolutely not. There’s no question that next season will be extremely popular, as will the season after that, and the one after that. It’s the long term view that’s a bit more worrisome.
Let’s talk about the importance of speed in this country for a minute.
● A DVR is no longer fast enough; we want our entertainment on demand.
● We like our food fast. How many times have we all complained of the service being too slow at a fancy restaurant?
● The London Olympic games, perhaps the biggest sporting even of the year, are mostly focused on track and swimming, two events that are all about being the fastest.
● The only reason people liked Sonic more than Mario in the 90’s was because he was faster.
● Even entry level cars have magazine spreads about their 0-60 time.
● The “Fast & The Furious” movies cut to the chase and now just go by “Fast.”
● Going to the moon would have been cool by itself, but beating the Russians by being faster than them made it better.
● Some people choose to spend all day communicating in 144 or fewer characteristics.
● We willingly pay what amounts to a monthly salary in a third world country just to get our Kindle sooner.
● If a song downloads in anything longer than a few seconds, we assume that the connection is broken and immediately complain to the Motel 6 lobby staff.
● Let’s not forget that we’re the ones that broke the sound barrier.
America has always been about speed and the NFL is no different. Sure, it’s enjoying tremendous success right now. You know what else enjoyed tremendous success? Baseball. The only people who watch baseball are closet nerds who want a cool way to keep stats, and people who grew up playing the game...back home in the Dominican Republic.
Baseball lost its status as America’s pastime because it got too slow for an increasingly hectic culture. The sport’s tagline of “America’s pastime” actually spells it out: past time. As in 4 hours is too much time passed in today’s attention deficit environment. Ask someone who doesn’t watch baseball why they don’t watch it and they will all say one thing: the games last too long. In other words, the game is too slow.
Professional football will run into the same problem. I hear you getting angry with me right now. I imagine you saying, “Messing with football, Roman? Why don’t you redesign the American flag next, Dumbo?” Fists curled up and veins bulging. Please, hear me out.
Be honest and tell yourself if this sounds fun: Punt return. Commercials. Pass play. Commercial. Pass. Run. Run. Punt. Commercial. Punt return. Commercial. Run. Commercial. Pass. Pass. Commercial. Pass. Run. Commercial. Field goal. Terry Bradshaw talking over an F-150 Logo. Commercial.
(Personally, I wish I could do that at my office job: Clock in. Coffee break. Talk about weekend. Email. Coffee break. Email. Email. Coffee break. Bathroom break. Email. Lunch. Coffee break. Email. Coffee break. Happy hour. Email. Coffee break. Clock out.)
Even the NFL itself eventually just wants to end games. This is probably why regular season games just end whenever the first team scores. You have to assume that by that point, even league officials just want to go home.
Okay, so what’s the solution? How can we keep the younger generations interested for years to come? There are actually two simple solutions.
First, the play clock has to be quicker. 40 seconds is way too long between plays. Cut it to 30 seconds. Boy, I’ll sure miss Eli screaming “Hut 40...hut orange...hut David Beckham...” for an extra 10 seconds. These guys practice all week; they’ll be fine with half a minute. Come on! 40 seconds? I don’t spend that much time microwaving my steaks on date night.
The second solution is to cut the number of replays. If the play was in some way incredible or critical to the game, then great, show it to me again. But do we want to see dropped passes on 1st and 10 in the first quarter twice? Do we need to see a one yard gain? What about a point after in a blow out? What’s the point, exactly? They might as well show replays of guys walking onto the field during the entrance. You can almost hear the commentators say,“Ah, yes Jim, there’s that intense entrance again out of the inflatable Packers football helmet. Let’s watch it again because I want to admire how well ironed these uniforms are.”
There you have it. Two simple, easy to implement solutions that will keep the NFL popular for years to come. Society is getting faster and the sport will need to adjust, or risk repeating baseball’s mistake.
Oh, and here’s this column in 115 characters if you’re in a crunch:
@nfl risks being 2 slow. USA = speed. Cut play clock to 30 sec and minimize dumb replays. #ladiesluvspeedright?
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