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With TV ratings in sharp decline, NFL looking at ways to speed up games

Can the NFL turn back the clock to shorter games? (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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In 2010, the Wall Street Journal calculated that an average NFL contest contained only 11 minutes of actual game action, which is startling when you consider the average length of an NFL game: Through 11 weeks of the 2015 season, games were taking 3 hours 9 minutes 26 seconds to complete, and for the 2014 season in full it was 3:05.46. Last weekend’s games took an average of 3:12 to complete.

You get the idea: An average NFL game will contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes of actual play and around three hours of commercials, replays, replay reviews, timeouts, halftimes, huddles and breaks for injuries. And the league wonders why its television ratings are dropping like a stone. It’s not just because of the presidential election, which is now over.

In any case, the league certainly is aware of the issue, and on Wednesday one of its top executives suggested that exceedingly long games may be part of the problem.

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“Could they be shorter? Could they be better? Are replays too long?” Brian Rolapp, NFL Media executive vice president and NFL Network president and chief executive, told an audience at a National Association of Broadcasters convention in New York. “We are constantly look at those things to make the pace of the games more interesting.”

Rolapp seemed to suggest that televisions viewers also are turned off by all the commercial breaks, that those touchdown-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequences that bog down so many games might not be the best way to keep viewers watching.

“In a world where Netflix has no commercials and consumers are used to 15 seconds of pre-roll, is there a better way to do commercials with our broadcast partners?” he said.

And while league officials “are not overly surprised” by the ratings drop this year and “are not overly worried about it,” Rolapp said the league is considering everything in terms of possible changes.

“If we don’t keep an open mind about preserving some flexibility, any measure of success you have can go away pretty quickly,” he said.  “We look constantly at improving the rules of the game, the safety of the game and the quality of the game — even if that means changing things that some people think are sacred cows.”