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NFL Plans Adjustments to Commercial Breaks to Improve Game Viewing Experience

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed Wednesday that the league is taking steps to “improve the flow and pace of the game” after a notable ratings drop in the 2016 regular season.

In an open letter addressed to “fans,” Goodell said the league is working with its TV partners — CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN — to “reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game.”

Goodell acknowledged in the letter a common complaint from viewers about commercial interruptions, particularly those that come just after changes in possession. One proposed solution is to no longer cut to commercial after the extra point is kicked, as well as the possibility of instituting a play clock after touchdowns.

League officials had been discussing the possibility of adjusting commercial loads or changing gameplay rules with just that goal as far back as November. On Nov. 9, at the keynote session of the National Association of Broadcasters show in New York, NFL EVP of media Brian Rolapp said there were up to 70 commercial spots in a single game. “Can we do that better?” he wondered. “And it’s not just taking commercials out of the game to do something different — do you actually spread out the commercial pods?” The NFL subsequently did a trial run in Week 16 with fewer commercial breaks that were longer.

This doesn’t mean the NFL is looking to decrease the amount of commercial time in a given game, however. The NFL is raking in around $7 billion a year in rights fees from its media partners; the U.S. broadcasters pay these fees because of the massive injection of ad dollars they get. Though ratings as whole were down for the 2016-17 season, the networks still brought in $3.5 billion in ad revenue. And while cutting back on the number of ad time available to the networks would, in theory, raise the cost of a single spot thanks to the power of scarcity, that’s a path no media partner currently wants to go down.

Here is the email from Goodell:

Dear Fans,

Here at the NFL, we have a relentless drive to improve—particularly when it comes to the way fans experience our game.

In order to understand how we might deliver a better and more exciting entertainment experience for you, we embarked on a specific project before the start of the 2016 season to gather feedback about the in-stadium and live NFL game viewing experience.

Consistently, we heard from fans that we can improve in two key areas: the flow and pace of the game, and commercialization and the number of unnecessary disruptions to the game on the field.

Today, I want to tell you about some of the ways we are working to address that.

On the football side, there are a number of changes we are making to the mechanics and rules of the game to maintain excitement and also improve the consistency of our officiating.

For example, next week clubs will vote on a change to centralize replay reviews. Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision. This should improve consistency and accuracy of decisions and help speed up the process.

Regarding game timing, we’re going to institute a play clock following the extra point when television does not take a break, and we’re considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown. We’re also going to standardize the starting of the clock after a runner goes out-of-bounds, and standardize halftime lengths in all games, so we return to the action as quickly as possible. Those are just a few of the elements we are working on to improve the pace of our game.

Together with our broadcast partners, we will be working to meaningfully reduce down time and the frequency of commercial breaks in our game. We will also be giving our broadcast partners increased flexibility to avoid untimely breaks in the action. For example, we know how annoying it is when we come back from a commercial break, kick off, and then cut to a commercial again. I hate that too. Our goal is to eliminate it.

We also know that you feel there are too many elements in the broadcast that aren’t relevant to the play on the field. With our partners, we will be looking to instead focus on content that is most complementary and compelling to you–whether that is analysis, highlights or stories about our players.

All of these changes are meant to give you more of what you want: a competitive game with fewer interruptions and distractions from the action.

There is much more work to do in the coming seasons as we continue to listen and learn. But these positive changes are intended to create a better experience for you, our fans.

We hope that you will continue to give us feedback on how we can improve.

Thank you for all that you do for our players, our teams and our game.

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