Skip to content

There are 11 minutes of action in an entire football game

Jan 15, 2010, 4:20 PM EDT

The next time your football fan friends talk about how boring baseball is, shoot them this link:

According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts,
and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the
ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.
In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the
time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the
officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg . . . the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.

Seventeen minutes are devoted to replays. Commercials take between an hour and seventy-five minutes, or 60% of the broadcast.  Sixty-seven minutes are devoted to players standing around and broadcasters bleating about whatever it is broadcasters bleat about.

I’m curious about what the ratios are for baseball. It obviously depends on what you count as dead time.  I would count the time after the batter is actually in the
box and the pitcher is getting the signs as “action,” because the ball is technically live and there’s something valuable and observable happening then, but many might not.

In fact, football partisans may point out the difficulty in determining the difference between action and inaction in a baseball game as even more damning than their own game’s pitiful ratio.  Tomato-tomahto.  Ultimately, arguing football vs. baseball is like religion or politics and facts kinda stop mattering at some point.

But one thing is indisputable: baseball is better than football in every conceivable way.  You can look it up.

  1. Old Gator - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    The next time your football fan friends talk about how boring baseball is, shoot them this link:
    According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes. In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg . . . the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.
    Seventeen minutes are devoted to replays. Commercials take between an hour and seventy-five minutes, or 60% of the broadcast. Sixty-seven minutes are devoted to players standing around and broadcasters bleating about whatever it is broadcasters bleat about.
    .
    I’m curious about what the ratios are for baseball. It obviously depends on what you count as dead time. I would count the time after the batter is actually in the box and the pitcher is getting the signs as “action,” because the ball is technically live and there’s something valuable and observable happening then, but many might not.
    .
    In fact, football partisans may point out the difficulty in determining the difference between action and inaction in a baseball game as even more damning than their own game’s pitiful ratio. Tomato-tomahto. Ultimately, arguing football vs. baseball is like religion or politics and facts kinda stop mattering at some point.
    .
    But one thing is indisputable: baseball is better than football in every conceivable way. You can look it up.
    .
    -Doris Kearns Goodwin, Fri Feb 13, 1953 4:20 PM ET

  2. Ace - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Way to go the extra mile with the tag, and imply that football is a girl.

  3. Ross - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    Neither one is inherently superior over the other. I enjoy them both equally for mostly completely different reasons.
    Well…neither is inherently superior unless you go with George Carlin’s explanation of the differences…

  4. Motherscratcher - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    I think, to be fair, if you are going to count the time when the pitcher is getting the sign as action then you must also count the time before the snap after the huddle breaks as action. As much as it might pain you to admit, looking at how the teams are lined up, who’s on the field, what players are shifting and were should probably be considered action.
    .
    I don’t intend this to take anything away from the overall point that there isn’t as much action in football as some people want you to believe. And, I think it IS pretty much indisputable that baseball is better.

  5. Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    The next time your football fan friends talk about how boring baseball is, shoot them this link:
    According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes. In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there’s barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg . . . the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.
    Seventeen minutes are devoted to replays. Commercials take between an hour and seventy-five minutes, or 60% of the broadcast. Sixty-seven minutes are devoted to players standing around and broadcasters bleating about whatever it is broadcasters bleat about.
    I’m curious about what the ratios are for baseball. It obviously depends on what you count as dead time. I would count the time after the batter is actually in the box and the pitcher is getting the signs as “action,” because the ball is technically live and there’s something valuable and observable happening then, but many might not.
    In fact, football partisans may point out the difficulty in determining the difference between action and inaction in a baseball game as even more damning than their own game’s pitiful ratio. Tomato-tomahto. Ultimately, arguing football vs. baseball is like religion or politics and facts kinda stop mattering at some point.
    But one thing is indisputable: baseball is better than football in every conceivable way. You can look it up.

  6. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    I agree: after the team breaks huddle and gets to the line should count as action. Formations, motion and all of that matter.

  7. zac - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    I came in to make the same basic argument as motherscrather – with the added question of whether or not a center could drop the ball before (not during) the snap and the ball be live, which is what happens when the pitcher throws over to first (or wherever) before the pitch – but stayed for Pierre Menard, which, as a Borges devotee, absolutely made my year.
    Yeah, it’s been a short year, but still.

  8. Alex K - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who mines the tags for gold……

  9. FatherFlayer - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Right on – just ask Peyton Manning. I’ll go you one further – even the huddle has action these days. The old fake-huddle switcheroo no-huddle is a Manning/Brady staple for catching defensive substitutes still trying to run off the field.
    The WSJ has done such a fine job reporting financial news and alerting everyone ahead of time to the fact that the stock market bubble was predicated on a dangerous pile of subprime mortgages that it was natural they should branch out and time a football game. Wait, they did none of that and they also screwed up timing the football game. The WSJ has no redeeming value, and even makes horrible toilet paper.

  10. Seth - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    But one thing is indisputable: baseball is better than football in every conceivable way. You can look it up.

    Awesome.

  11. Diesel - Jan 15, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    At least football and baseball have one thing in common: Joe Buck’s mellifluous voice as the guide through their respective hallmark events. I can think of no one more deserving of the honor.

  12. kendynamo - Jan 15, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    i think the supreme court would agree with you, Craig.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2241434/
    of course a lot off the same people also believe that shakespeare was a fraud, so i’m not sure that’s much of bonus
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123998633934729551.html

  13. Doc - Jan 15, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    By that rationale, however, you would be arguing the point that soccer is, by definition, the most action packed sport around. Really?!?
    PS – Joe Buck? Mellifluous? Nice $5 word, but here are a few that I think more closely relate to Joe Buck: aggravating, bothersome, galling, irksome and irritating!

  14. bigcatasroma - Jan 15, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    One thing I have always argued, unsuccessfully (because this country are full of morons) – soccer/baseball has more action than American football. Plain and simple.

  15. Cru11 - Jan 15, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    (because this country are full of morons)
    You tell ‘em scholar.

  16. YoPaulie - Jan 15, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    “Commercials take between an hour and seventy-five minutes, or 60% of the broadcast.”
    Maybe it’s the new math… but how does 60 to 75 minutes equal 60% of a 3 hour (180 minute) broadcast? More like 30% – 42%.
    As you were.Just sayin’.

  17. Whatever - Jan 15, 2010 at 11:36 PM

    Yes, baseball can be super boring, especially if there is some announcer constantly going on about some type of sports trivia. If I listen to the games I am usually busy doing several other things at the same time so as not to fall asleep. If I watch a game on TV I Tivo it and watch the game in fast forward. I can watch a nine inning game in about 30 minutes by skipping commercials and all the other unimportant parts. I do the same with football so there are no time differences for me. Fast forward works great for these two sports but not as well with basketball.

  18. Jberardi - Jan 15, 2010 at 11:51 PM

    I’m thinking that Hockey and Rugby have to be the most “action packed” by the standard the WSJ is applying here. Auto/motorcycle racing probably deserve some recognition as well (NASCAR notwithstanding).

  19. Old Gator - Jan 16, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    I don’t know what you can say about Rugby when most experts agree that the greatest game ever played was between the students and headmasters of the Piltdown Fossil Boys’ Academy and only a few minutes of it were even preserved in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
    .
    Otherwise, I have pondered this problem of “minutes of action” in Football and now understand why it always seems more exciting than baseball. It’s the same problem that the guys out at Trinity Site (not to be confused with Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session) solved by coming up with the concept of megatonnage. Each of those eleven minutes concentrates enough speed, agility and brute violence to equal a whole innings’ worth of baseball. Ergo, you could say that the average football game contains eleven megainnings of action, whereas the most powerful regulation baseball game ever detonated contains only nine. Of course once you get into multiple overtimes and extra innings, it’s a whole new animal. Fortunately, the Helsinki Convention banned “dirty” games and/or jacketing them with Howard Cosell or Rush Limbaugh, so there’s rather less toxic residue now than there used to be.

  20. Omega in Colorado - Jan 16, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    You couldn’t get me to watch 11 minutes of football in an entire season.
    Baseball is the best sport with hockey and basketball being tied for second.

  21. MikeD - Jan 18, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    ESPN ran an article for the new year, listing ways to make sports better and this topic was in there. Here’s what they list as the live action for 4 sports: NHL 60min, NBA 48min, MLB 12:22min, NFL 12:08min.
    How they came up with these numbers is beyond me (they don’t say either), I just thought I’d point it out cause I just read this article.
    Baseball FTW !!

  22. Wichita Falls Realtors - Jan 20, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I really enjoy reading the articles on this blog. I’ll bookmark this so I can read more later.

  23. Honeywell Oil Heater - Jan 22, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    I really enjoy reading the articles on this blog. I’ll bookmark this so I can read more later.

  24. Pit Silas - Jan 27, 2010 at 12:24 AM

    Hi – very great web site you have created. I enjoyed reading this posting. I did want to write a remark to tell you that the design of this site is very aesthetically pleasing. I used to be a graphic designer, now I am a copy editor in chief for a merchandising firm. I have always enjoyed functioning with computing machines and am trying to learn code in my free time (which there is never enough of lol).

  25. Bert Hermanus - Jan 27, 2010 at 12:24 AM

    Solid blog. I got a lot of effective data. I’ve been following this technology for awhile. It’s intriguing how it keeps shifting, yet some of the core elements remain the same. Have you seen much change since Google made their latest acquisition in the arena?

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Angels' 2011 overhaul finally paying off?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (3956)
  2. R. Castillo (3280)
  3. A. Rizzo (2570)
  4. A. Pujols (2203)
  5. H. Ryu (2156)
  1. E. Gattis (2127)
  2. J. Hamilton (1970)
  3. C. Davis (1962)
  4. B. Belt (1929)
  5. M. Trout (1844)