Beyond the Plays: The Other 169 Minutes of an NFL Broadcast
Eleven Minutes. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, in the average three hour NFL football broadcast only elven minutes of footage is live play. So what makes up the other 93% of the game? New York-based radio program, On the Media, recently put out two great stories on just that topic (the sound bites are available below). The first story, titled “Game Time”, featured an interview with Bob Fishman, a game director for CBS Sports. It covered both what takes up the time between plays and how the content is chosen/provided. The second, titled “Stats Man”, tells the story of 75-year-old Marty Aronoff, one of the men responsible for providing the stats broadcast on game day.
This topic forces one to question: why are televised NFL games so popular when the vast majority of the broadcast is just filler? The answer, as OTM explains, is that this filler actually adds to the games. It provides context. Sure, there are commercials and the occasional shots of cheerleaders, but the vast majority of content provided between plays is valuable to the viewer. Think about instant replays. Instant replay technology has largely taken the guessing out of close calls. Fans get the same view as the official under the hood and they are able to formulate their own educated opinions; good call or blown call, fans will know. Reaction shots are another huge portion of NFL broadcasts. Cameras capture every moment of touchdown celebration after a big play, while at the same time, they also catch the player at fault loafing to the bench after a key mistake. To paraphrase Bob, there’s a goat and a hero on any given play. Cameras are also notoriously good at catching conflict. Be it a coach chewing out a player after a blown assignment or two player getting into in on the bench after a miscommunication, cameras keep the audience in the know – and it’s not by accident. It is Bob Fishman’s to keep the audience informed on both on-field and off-field action during the game. He tells his team of camera operators the exact shots he wants for each particular play. Through this constant flow of information, Bob is able to shape the storylines of the game.
As much as the on the field action matters in the NFL, such a huge part of the game is the storylines that develop from week to week. Part action movie and part soap opera, the NFL provides a continued supply of ups and downs for players, coaches, and teams. Fans know when a team has lost six of its last seven games in December. Fans know when an upstart backup quarterback becomes the first such player to throw two TD passes in each of this first three games. Fans know when a coach is only two wins short of a franchise record. Just as skillful camerawork helps to bring these stories to life, so does the timely statistics of men like Marty Aronoff. Marty is responsible for feeding in the statistics and trends that the broadcasters communicate to the public. Have the Redskins missed three of their last third downs? Have they been bad this season? This year? Throughout their history? Marty keeps on top of these trends and makes them known. This type of context draws back the lens on current plays. Whether the outcome coincides with the statistical trend or goes against it, the play becomes a story. Did the team continue their issues on third down or did they manage to fight for the first downs when they counted? These developments are what makes the SportCenter news the following morning and becomes the water cooler conversation at work. These storylines are what keep people enamored with the NFL.
As much as it may seem shocking that an NFL broadcast contains only eleven minutes of live play, it is important not to look past the other interesting content. Replays, reactions, statistics, trends, and storylines help to paint a more complete and interesting picture of a given game.