Speedy play high­lights start of sea­son

The Buffalo News - - NFL SUNDAY - By Vic Carucci

If you felt you had a lit­tle ex­tra time to cel­e­brate the Buf­falo Bills’ sea­son-open­ing vic­tory against the New York Jets last Sun­day, you weren’t imag­in­ing things.

The Bills and Jets played one of the fastest games of Week One.

With a du­ra­tion of 2 hours and 54 min­utes from open­ing kick­off un­til the fi­nal sec­ond ex­pired, it shared sec­ond place – with the Den­ver Bron­cos’ win against the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers – be­hind the 2 hours, 48 min­utes it took the Dal­las Cow­boys to beat the New York Gi­ants.

That trio of games re­flected a much broader trend through­out the league for the start of its 2017 cam­paign. Con­sider: • Ten of the 15 games played fin­ished in un­der three hours, the first time that has hap­pened since 2009.

• The av­er­age game time for Week One was 3 hours and 2 min­utes. That’s about three min­utes faster than the av­er­age game time for Week One of 2016 and about five min­utes faster than the av­er­age for the en­tire '16 sea­son.

It was only one week, so this is where we in­sert the dis­claimer that you shouldn’t over­re­act to those num­bers any more than you should to the fi­nal scores.

What’s sig­nif­i­cant, how­ever, is that af­ter an 8 per­cent de­cline in tele­vi­sion rat­ings last year, the NFL is mak­ing a con­certed ef­fort to ac­cel­er­ate the pace of games.

Ac­tion that too of­ten moved painfully slow be­cause of seem­ingly end­less com­mer­cial breaks and of­fi­cials tak­ing seem­ingly for­ever to do what­ever it is of­fi­cials do was viewed as the pri­mary cause for view­ers opt­ing to tune out.

There were other fac­tors. The pres­i­den­tial election was of­ten men­tioned as a lead­ing cause. So, too, was the pro­nounced shift in how fans watch games. Gath­er­ing around a big TV screen is old school, some­thing par­ents and grand­par­ents do. Their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren pre­fer to use smart phones and other de­vices they can hold or rest on their laps while mul­ti­task­ing on so­cial me­dia.

For many, watch­ing an en­tire game has be­come far less im­por­tant than see­ing high­lights from a va­ri­ety of games to see how their fan­tasy teams are do­ing.

Still, for the NFL, the pri­or­ity was to ad­dress the pre­sen­ta­tion of all of those TV shows it airs from sta­di­ums through­out the coun­try on Sun­day and Sun­day night, Mon­day night and Thurs­day night.

There’s no mys­tery be­hind why some games take less time than oth­ers. Where there’s a pro­lif­er­a­tion of run­ning plays, there’s usu­ally a clock that runs … and runs … runs. The Bills had 42 rush­ing at­tempts to 28 passes against the Jets, who ran only 15 times.

Of course, in the pass-happy NFL, no one in the league’s hi­er­ar­chy wants to bank its multi-bil­lion-dol­lar fu­ture that is mainly funded by TV ad­ver­tis­ing on ground-ori­ented game plans.

“It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the length of the game,” NFL ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Joe Lock­hart said in remarks pro­vided in an e-mail from the league. “I think New Eng­land-Kansas City was an ex­cit­ing, com­pelling game and that went some­thing like three (hours) and 24 (min­utes). But it is a con­certed ef­fort to take ‘dead time’ out, to re­duce the com­mer­cials.”

To that end the league, in con­junc­tion with the net­works that have a com­mon in­ter­est in boost­ing rat­ings, re­duced com­mer­cial blocks from five to four per quar­ter. Some com­mer­cials also run on a split screen with a live shot from the game (usu­ally an aerial view of the sta­dium), so view­ers feel as if they’re con­stantly con­nected to the game.

How much that ac­tu­ally mat­tered in Week One is de­bat­able. Sun­day 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock rat­ings saw a stag­ger­ing drop of 13 per­cent from Week One of 2016, al­though most of that was blamed on Hur­ri­cane Irma slam­ming into Florida and knock­ing out power to a large num­ber of res­i­dents while the Weather Chan­nel and CNN pulled mil­lions of eye­balls away from game cov­er­age.

How­ever, the Cow­boys-Gi­ants game Sun­day night rep­re­sented a 6 per­cent jump from last year’s New Eng­land-Ari­zona Sun­day prime-time opener. And the sag­ging num­bers from the ear­lier games weren’t enough to dis­cour­age the NFL from be­liev­ing in its grand plan to win back TV view­ers.

“We got a lot of anec­do­tal feed­back on re­duc­ing from five (com­mer­cial) blocks to four in a quar­ter,” Lock­hart said. “The re­search had told us that our fans were will­ing and were open to the breaks be­ing slightly longer if there were less of them, and that was the case. We also got re­ally good feed­back on the dou­ble-box, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the re­views, show­ing the of­fi­cial look­ing at the re­play while de­liv­er­ing the ad.

“I hear from our part­ners’ ad­ver­tis­ers that those per­formed very well, and they’ve seen them in some of the ma­jor golf tour­na­ments and the World Se­ries last year.”

There is an em­pha­sis on ex­pe­diece in of­fi­ci­at­ing me­chan­ics. Rather than walk­ing to the side­lines and go­ing un­der a hood to re­view plays, of­fi­cials have a com­puter tablet car­ried to them on the field. And rather than wait for a com­mer­cial break to end for the of­fi­cial to an­nounce whether the rul­ing on the field stands or is re­versed, the net­works now tend to stay with the broad­cast.

“You’ll see more of­ten than not that they’ll stay,” Lock­hart said. “One op­tion is to go to the dou­ble-box, so at least the fans know that there is a rul­ing com­ing. We’ll see it there and we’ll see it in other places. The net­work part­ners are look­ing at the best way to do it.

“It was in­ter­est­ing talk­ing to some of our part­ners at (the open­ing) Thurs­day Night game about the feed­back they were get­ting from ad­ver­tis­ers. The dou­ble-box com­mer­cials per­formed as well, and in some cases even bet­ter, in terms of re­call and ef­fec­tive­ness. I think you’ll see a lot more of that in the NFL and other live sport­ing events, too.”

Any­thing to make the ex­pe­ri­ence faster.

Getty Images file photo

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