Words by Esteban Ramirez
What’s the deal with America having so many breaks in their sports, what are they so scared about?
My usual experience of watching football begins with 45 minutes of largely uninterrupted, gripping football. At half-time there is a 15-minute break, giving my heart-rate a chance to stabilise. This is followed by another 45-minute stretch of nerves, excitement and passion.
Emotions are at the heart of the game, continually building one’s loyalty and support of their club. It’s what makes you come back for more, a roller-coaster experience with thousands of like-minded supporters.
This experience was my general conception of what watching sports is about and why it has become a staple of global culture.
Little did I know of the differences in major sports across the pond.
After a few months of watching the NBA and playing Madden NFL, I could not get my head around the stop-start nature of American sports.
A basketball match is separated into four quarters of 12 minutes each, with breaks in-between them adding up to just under 30 minutes.
In 2021, breaks for fouls and free-throws totalled another 40 minutes of non-play time.
This means that, in a game with 48 minutes of allotted playing time, another 1 hour and 10 minutes of non-playing time is thread throughout.
If this wasn’t enough to stun you, in a game of American Football, which lasts roughly 3 hours, the ball is in play for an average of just 11 minutes (Ganninger, 2020).
As I started to watch these sports, a recurring theme began. The moment I became invested in a game, a foul or timeout was called, instantaneously sucking all momentum from the game.
How any atmosphere or emotional build-up could occur in such settings bemused me.
Some of my most vivid memories of watching football consist of my team defending for their lives during a relentless 20-minute stretch, or conversely the agony of them bombarding the opposition goal and being denied time-after-time, with the occasional last-minute winner.
This is what makes football, the heroic highs and the crushing lows. The release of pent-up energy and frustration flowing out in screams of delight as you see the back of the net ripple.
This is just something that cannot be replicated when play is continually interrupted every few minutes – it simply does not allow for any extended period of engrossment and subsequent emotional build-up.
It can be considered rather ironic then, that American fans find European sports such as football and rugby boring. What they love in high-scoring basketball and detailed categorization of every play in American football they trade away in emotional investment and atmospheric build-up.
Different theories have been thrown around for why this is. Some say its because of the capitalist ideal of saturating television with ad-breaks.
A more interesting theory is that it is down to an obsession with analytics. Being able to count every time a player catches, passes or tackles allows for objective player rankings, the popularisation of which is seen in the film ‘Moneyball’.
Perhaps they just had enough of missing the action whilst going to the toilet.