The Total Amount of Commercials During NFL Games Has Decreased 4.5 Minutes in the 2018-19 Season So Far

Ask most NFL fans what some of their biggest complaints are about watching NFL games, and the number of commercials will be near the top of everyone’s list (probably somewhere around too many flags, bad officiating, and maybe something about the Patriots being good, again).

And in a world where commercial-free services like Netflix have made commercial breaks seem so much more obtrusive, the NFL has been notorious for jamming as many advertisements into each game as possible. The public has gotten vocal about this over the past five seasons, but despite the fact that most TV networks hadn’t really increased the number of ads during each broadcast in that time, many fans felt as if the TV networks had done so. Even the NFL commissioner himself has commented that he aims to keep decreasing the number of ads.

With that in mind, we wanted to track the total time advertisements were running during NFL games during the first five weeks of this season. What we have found is actually a notable decrease during the 2018-19 season so far. 

We tracked commercial time during games over the last five weeks and found that there has been, on average, a 4.5 minute decrease per broadcast in total advertising.

Sports data website found that last season there was a 10.5 minute drop in commercials during television broadcasts, meaning with these numbers the league is building on a growing trend. Two years ago, the total time of commercial breaks during an average NFL game floated between 60 and 65 minutes per game. With last year’s decrease of approximately 10 minutes, and this year’s drop of five minutes, the total advertising time during a game has fallen over 20% in two years.

Here is the breakdown by network from our tracking:

  • Sunday Night Football on NBC has seen a decrease of 2 minute and 52 seconds
  • FOX has seen a decrease of 6 minutes and 14 seconds
  • CBS has seen a decrease of 5 minutes and 31 seconds
  • Monday Night Football on ESPN has seen a decrease of 3 minutes and 27 seconds

But has anyone noticed?

We took a small sample poll of self-described NFL fans, and of the 330 fans we surveyed, found the following perception:

Does it feel like the TV networks show MORE, LESS, or THE SAME amount of commercials during NFL games from previous seasons:

More Commercials 29%
The Same Amount of Commercials 49%
Less Commercials 22%

So despite the fact that the television networks and the NFL are working to decrease the number of ads, most people either think there are more or the same amount of ads.

Here are some notes for clarification:

We DID NOT count time where an ad was running but viewers were able to watch game footage on the split screen. We weren’t exactly sure what to classify these as, but because we rarely paid attention to the ad and instead watched the NFL game footage, decided against counting it as a traditional advertisement.

FOX and CBS have several broadcasts going at once, so it’s possible that some games had more commercials than others based on any number of factors (timeouts, more kickoffs, etc), but over five weeks it felt pretty conclusive that there was a notable decrease.

It’s interesting that the prime time games (Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football) saw smaller decreases. Our guess is that these networks have larger budget broadcasts and likely need to maintain the advertising revenue stream. They do charge more for ads, after all.