The NFL ratings decline this year should signal they have a problem. The big question from a management point of view is will they honestly examine their problem and seek a solution? Do they have the leadership who will address the problem? While a lot of theories have been put forth as to why the decline occurred, from the impact of the presidential election to players kneeling during the national anthem one thing still remains clear. The television product is poor and is in drastic need of change.

I looked at three recent games to illustrate my point. On the telecast of the New York Giants / Dallas Cowboy game December 11th on NBC the totals for the first quarter were:
– 33 football plays including kickoffs, punts and point afters
– 23 commercials
– 9 programming promos and billboards
– Totals: 33 plays and 32 ads; a one to one ratio in less than 50 minutes of real time.

The Fox game on December 4th between the Rams and the Patriots produced the following numbers:
– 34 football plays
– 25 commercials
– 9 programming promos and billboards
– Totals: 34 plays and 34 ads; an exact one to one ratio in less than 50 minutes of real time

The December 12th Monday Night Football game on ESPN between the Ravens and the Patriots produced the following:
– 47 football plays
– 26 commercials
– 8 programming promos and billboards
– Totals: 47 plays and 34 ads in less than 50 minutes of real time

The cumulative totals for the three quarters: 114 football plays and 100 ads. Projected out that would result in 142 football plays and 136 ads. The ad totals are only for in game and do not reflect pregame, halftime or post game. The average NFL game now exceeds 3 hours in length. The three quarters in which I counted the ads all took close to 50 minutes in real time starting with the opening kickoff. Averaging the ad counts indicates 34 ads per quarter.

The breaks for ads in each game were: 12/11 6 breaks; 12/12 7 commercial breaks; and 12/04 6 breaks.

Seven commercial breaks came after 4 or less plays, usually three plays and a punt. Only eight breaks came after 7 or more plays with two drives in the Monday Night Football game producing drives of 11 and 12 plays.

All three networks masquerade the limited number of actual plays by constantly showing replays thus making it appear as if there is more action. This ploy is really evident when taping a game and trying to fast forward to count plays and ads. Hint: it’s why I only produced numbers for three quarters and not the entire game.

The NFL is not alone in this practice. However, as the leader in professional sports they should copy the lessons of leaders in industry. Companies who fail to act as leaders find themselves ceding their leadership position to competition. Wise leaders establish new paradigms. The NFL must begin to behave as a leader and establish a new paradigm for their broadcasts or they will soon find themselves ousted from their current lofty status.

The decisions they have to make to improve their broadcast product are quite easy. The courage and foresight to make those changes is another matter. It comes back to leadership. Does the NFL have a leader to take them into the future? In my book “Theory You” I have a chapter titled “Leaders Should Behave As Leaders”. As we used to say about the advertising business “it ain’t brain surgery”.