All About Efficiency

Last week whilst reading the post CTE – Countdown to Easter over at the Green All Over blog, there was something that I agreed with and wanted to comment on further.

Cassini wrote:

As for the Super Bowl, I have to say that I am with James on this. When Channel 4 started covering the game in 1983, I would stay up for the whole thing for the next few years, but my enthusiasm for the sport has faded since then.

One reason is that the game just takes so long, and while it’s not so bad when you’re at home and have other distractions, watching a game live is frankly quite tedious (although the college version is much more fun).

Unlike its cousins, rugby or proper football, there is just no flow to the professional game. The frequent and lengthy stoppages are perfect for advertisers, and were also perfect for trading in the pre-court-siding era, but they don’t do anything to make the game watch-able.

My enthusiasm is fading also. Whilst I can easily watch the Red Zone for a few hours, there’s no way a single live game can hold my full attention. As previously mentioned here before:

..the other week I was watching the Cavs blow out the 76ers rather than watch the NFL. Plus I didn’t have any bets on the Cavs-76ers game. That says it all really. I’d rather watch the 76ers with no wager than the NFL.

The main issue I have with watching a single NFL game is that it is long and generally boring, with few moments of excitement. I wondering the about the following recently and found that on average; a game lasts 3 hours 10 mins, the game clock is only 60 minutes though. But guess how long the ball is actually in play?

11 minutes!

The average game lasts 190 minutes but you’re only getting 11 minutes of action. The ball is only in play 6% of the time. That’s ridiculous. How inefficient is that?! And how does it stack up against the other major sports? After some Google searches we get:

it’s best if you click to enlarge

So at one end you have the “beautiful game” where (according to the 2014 World Cup) the ball is is play for 52% of the time, and the game lasts 110 mins. At the other end is “America’s game” where the average game last 190 mins and the ball is only in play 6% of the time.

Now this isn’t an exact science. You could easily pick up flaws with most of the figures shown above such as:

  • There’s “dead time” in soccer included when a team is passing the ball around at the back with little pressure. The stat is from the World Cup, but I’d bet that soccer would still have the highest in play % when looking at a wider range of competitions.
  • The NBA stats do not include the time taken for free throws. You may argue the free throws are “boring”, but not when you have a wager on, and I’d rather watch free throws than adverts.
  • The tennis stats come from the US open. The ball will most likely be in play longer on clay courts.
  • The MLB stats were being generous, see the note below.

Despite any flaws, you’ve got a good idea of where these sports stack up against each other in this regard. I’m not saying that the best sport would maximise the amount of time the ball is in play. I think it builds tension & excitement when you have stoppages towards the end of a close game. Like what you get in basketball. The point I wanted to make is that the next time you sit down to watch a game of football, 94% of the time, you won’t really be watching football.


NFL: ball in play is “between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials”

MLB: “The almost 18-minute average included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches (balls, strikes, fouls and balls hit into play), trotting batters (on home runs, walks and hit-by-pitches), pickoff throws and even one fake-pickoff throw. This may be generous. If we’d cut the action definition down to just the time when everyone on the field is running around looking for something to do (balls in play and runner advancement attempts), we’d be down to 5:47.”

NBA: 48 minute game clock

NHL: 60 minute game clock



Rugby Union:

2 thoughts on “All About Efficiency”

  1. Pingback: Winning and Losing | Winners Win on Sports

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