Sometimes the planets just lineup right for a sports blogger. This is one of those times, as the NFL changed the PAT rules for the first time since 1912, and the Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II confirmed the Steelers have an appetite for more international play.
- How’s that you say?
OK, those two don’t quite go together like chocolate and peanut butter, per the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials. But dig below the surface, and you’ll see that they do. And the words of Sports Illustrated’s Peter King guides us there.
Regular Monday Morning Quarterback readers know that Peter King favors the NFL’s extra point. And Peter King is the consummate NFL insider, who enjoys unprecedented access to NFL executives, NFL owners, NFL coaches and players.
- In fact, fans and other commentators often question King’s journalistic independence.
Whether those charges hold merit or not is irrelevant here. Peter King does have strong first-hand knowledge of what the powers that be in the NFL are thinking. Given that, his comments leading up to the NFL owners vote on changing the PAT are telling and perhaps reveal a blind spot in the NFL’s vision for international expansion.
To frame his argument in favor of changing the extra point, Peter King reviewed several touchdowns from the previous season which were followed by conventional PAT kicks. Here are King’s observations:
PAT—About 55 seconds from the time a touchdown is scored until the time the ref signals for a TV timeout.
TV timeout—There are 20 per game, at 1 minute 50 seconds per timeout.
Touchback following the TV timeout—About 75 seconds from the time the game comes back from commercial to when the offensive team breaks the huddle and approaches the line for first down.
That’s exactly four minutes between plays of substance—the touchdown and the first play on the next series—assuming a PAT and a touchback. That’s a lot of nothing time. [emphasis added]
Peter King is right. That IS a lot of nothing time. But Peter King misses the point on extra points. At 99.4% effectiveness, the PAT is perhaps a meaningless play, but the PAT isn’t the cause of “a lot of nothing time” but simply a symptom.
- The root cause of the “nothing time” problem is that there are too many stops in the action and too many commercials in pro football.
Period. No argument. End of story. Steel Curtain Rising has written about this before.
The stark reality is this: The NFL will never remotely sniff, let alone threaten soccer or basketball’s international popularity are until they realize this.
International fans are simply not accustomed to the frequent stops in the action. In soccer the action starts and continues for 45 minutes straight. If there’s been an interruption of play due to an injury or something, extra time is added to the end of a half. Ditto rugby.
- While Latin American soccer features brief adds super imposed on the field while teams set up cornerkicks, the European soccer leagues ban such advertising.
When people consider the challenge of prompting football globally, most assume that the primary obstacle is that people outside North America have difficulty understanding the rules. Certainly this is an issue. But football does have its roots in rugby, which enjoys global support, and the advent of the internet and video games makes learning the sport is easier today than ever.
In over 14 plus years of living in Argentina, I’ve tried to introduce American football to several Argentines who’ve shown interest. The results of experiments in introducing Argentines to American football are predictable.
- During the first half, the game holds their interest, although they do ask why commercial breaks are so frequent.
However, at some point, usually midway through the third quarter typically – when a touchdown needs to be reviewed leads to a commercial, followed by the PAT and another commercial which leads to the touchback and then yet another commercial — periods they almost invariably discretely peek at their watches while suppressing a yawn, pause and then in a very polite tone ask “So…. How much longer is this going to last…?”
After that point they’re checked out mentally and even if it’s a back and forth game going into the 4th quarter, they no longer care.
CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN and DirectTV are paying approximately $10 billion to show NFL games. In an age where broadcasters struggle to build audiences in the low 7 figures, the NFL delivers audiences in 8 figures – or higher.
- Let’s accept that commercial breaks in pro football are not going to go away.
But if the NFL is ever to get serious about global expansion, they’re going to need to figure out a way to streamline the game. That means the NFL must get creative. Peter King is right. The automatic PAT and almost automatic touchback add little entertainment or athletic value to the NFL’s “product.”
- However the added drama of seeing more two point conversions will be dissipated if not lost if it becomes sandwiched inside of two (or 3) commercial breaks.
US audiences have been conditioned to expect constant commercials, so they’re somewhat hardened to their impact. In fact, in making his pitch for changing the extra point, it doesn’t even seem to occur to Peter King to suggest that commercials are a root cause of the “nothing time” he so accurately describes.
International audiences, however, have the opposite conditioning. And if the NFL ever hopes to capture their interest, as well as their euros, pounds, reales, pesos, rubies, or yuans they’re going to need to cut the frequency of commercial interruptions.