Words by Bec Nicol
In Britain, American football has never been taken seriously, it has always been dismissed as the lesser sibling of rugby, and nowhere near as exciting as the version of football played here in the UK. It is mocked because its players wear helmets and padding, whilst in rugby players tackle each other wearing only their uniform and a gum shield. However, the National Football League or NFL is being taken less and less seriously everywhere, even in the States, thanks to an advertisement takeover which is distracting from the game itself. Nowadays when the NFL is mentioned people can only picture bright lights and large screens with a flashing coca-cola ad, rather than what’s happening on the field.
The average televised NFL match has been reported to include a staggering 63 minutes worth of commercial ‘breaks’, which is nearly 33% of the broadcast, and the Football event of the season, the Super Bowl, is no exception. Super Bowl Sunday is the final playoff of the NFL season held on the second Sunday of February every year. However, what is regarded as one of the most well-known sporting events in the world has rapidly declining TV ratings which can all be put down to the fact that many Americans, and those elsewhere in the world who enjoy the sport, feel as though they’re watching a run of advertisements with some football in between.
This is the reality for a game that was once part of the idyllic poster image for the American Dream. An image that can be described as a man arriving at his own home after a long day’s work to find his wife cooking him dinner, and his sons practising line-outs in their backyard which is lined with a white picket fence. Nevertheless, just like the American dream, this sport is being turned into an opportunity to advertise and monetise. According to one source, for a company to have 30 seconds of commercial airtime during this year’s 2023 Super Bowl, they will have paid 7 million US dollars. And whilst many would assume that if anyone is going to accept an over-exposure to products it will be an American, statistics are showing that even they can’t bear it. Last year’s Super Bowl in the US attracted 6.69 million viewers across all the platforms that televised it. This was the lowest average viewership for the game since 2006. Not to mention the US population is 331.9 million and football is supposedly its most popular sport, the regular season ratings for 2022 also saw a decrease of 3%.
Long-time watchers of the NFL have remarked that “In the old days while watching an NFL game one hoped he would not miss any of the game while running to the bathroom during a commercial break. Now because of endless commercials, one can go to the bathroom, walk the dog, make a ham sandwich, get a beer, and still see half the commercials. I am sick of it.”
Yes, the NFL and large companies have well and truly taken advantage of the nature of the game to create revenue. In European football, the game is on running time so there is essentially less time and opportunity to slot in commercial breaks like there is in American football, where it is done so often because of constant stops in play. Hence, why it is now commonplace to expect a minimum of 16 ad breaks in one broadcast. Many Americans are even starting to prefer watching the sport they have never taken seriously. All the data is showing that soccer as it is called over there, is becoming more and more popular. This can be attributed to a number of reasons including the large Hispanic population in the US who follow and play the sport in significant numbers, as well as the unexpected progress of the men’s national team in last year’s World Cup, and building excitement over the States jointly hosting the next World Cup with Canada and Mexico in 2026. However, another arguable contribution to this sport’s growing popularity could be that many people just want to watch something that isn’t more commercials than sports. One individual depicts this situation well when remarking “I watched Maryland play Michigan in NCAA Mens Soccer. Saw an incredible two overtime victory by Maryland, preserving an undefeated season, superb athletes on both sides of the ball, uninterrupted play and sportsmanship from student athletes. The ball moved the entire game, no commercials except when appropriate and it rocked. From someone who played football all the way up to D-1AA offers and used to make fun of soccer. That’s exactly what the NFL doesn’t offer me. I never even considered turning it on.”
Now, if the thought of 16 commercial breaks in a game that is only scheduled to last 60 minutes (not including stops in play) shocked you, it should be known that in the Super Bowl, one can expect roughly between 80 and 100 ads to oscillate. Of course, none of this is hugely surprising because nothing is more American than making a big show of everything. After all, this is the nation that brought us every reality show ever, from the likes of 16 And Pregnant to Ice Road Truckers. Although this is less of a big show and more of a matter of a lack of appreciation for a craft because the chance to make money is involved.
This is a sad outcome for any sport to become victim to because, to those who’ve never played a sport, you have to know that there is no more exciting feeling than when the start whistle blows and the nerves dissipate whilst you get to work on what you’ve been training for. For those in the top league of any sport, this feeling must be even more special, as they are amongst the best and the brightest of all those who have tried it. Events as big as the Super Bowl should be about this, however, it is more likely everyone is going to remember the quality of Rihanna’s performance in the Halftime show this year rather than the quality of player performance on the field.
Photo credit: Drexel University