The NFL is looking at a number of ways to shorten its ever-lengthening game times, according to a report from John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal.
As Ourand details, the average NFL game has ballooned to 3 hours, 12 minutes in 2016, up from 3 hours, 7 minutes just two years ago. In the age of shortened attention spans, football games should be getting shorter -- not longer.
But, according to the report, there isn't an easy solution to cut down time from games. The simplest fix from the league's perspective would be to reduce the number of commercial breaks networks are allowed to take. However, the number, location and length of those breaks are negotiated into the NFL's contracts with FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN, and the networks depend on those breaks to recoup the billions in rights fees they pay each year.
The NFL is looking into whether advertisers would pay more for the exclusivity of fewer ad breaks. When I asked a network ad sales executive if broadcasters could make as much revenue from fewer ads, I was greeted with laughter.
Another possible solution would be to cut down halftime from 12 to 10 minutes. But that would receive pushback from networks and, for what it's worth, from players and coaches as well.
That leaves one possible solution that wouldn't require heavy negotiations from the NFL -- shortening the length of replay reviews. Everyone involved agrees the current system is a complete momentum-killer for games, but if any fix existed, one assumes, the league would've adopted it already. Ourand points to the NHL and the NBA as leagues the NFL should look to for inspiration, but football presents a unique set of logistical realties not present in hockey or basketball.
So it appears there isn't a simple fix for the league's complicated, costly problem. Not unless the NFL is willing to give something -- mainly: money -- up to get there. And we know how that goes.
But whatever solution the NFL does reach, it's clear college football should work to adopt it without delay. While a 3 hour, 12 minute football game feels like an existential crisis for the NFL, that sounds like a relative breeze to college football and its 3 hour, 26 minute average game length.