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Every NFL fan has seen an exciting game disrupted in a familiar way: a commercial break, then a kickoff, then ... another commercial break.
Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't like it, either.
"It drives me crazy," Goodell told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. "We call those 'double-ups.' They actually occurred 27% of the time (on kickoffs last season). And that's still too high for us."
In the coming days, the league will roll out its plans for not only revamping the commercial structure within TV broadcasts but also tweaking in-game timing, replay reviews and more -- the product of experimentation and research the NFL took directly to fans before last season to find out what they liked and disliked, both in the stadium and on the couch.
Goodell said the changes aren't tied to a pre-election TV ratings dip last season. But he acknowledged the expiration of the TV deals in 2022 amid a changing media landscape is "top of mind for us on the broader picture" as the league continues to seek the best way to deliver a valuable commodity: three hours of content many viewers still consume live.
Beginning with the upcoming season, there will be subtle changes to the timing of the games themselves, including standardizing the start of the clock after a player goes out of bounds and the duration of halftime. A play clock will be instituted after extra points (and perhaps after touchdowns, though that's still under discussion). A vote is expected at the league meetings next week on a centralized replay system in which referees review plays on tablets, rather than sideline monitors, and provide input to officiating headquarters in New York, where the final call would be made.
There will be changes to TV broadcasts, including less frequent but slightly longer commercial breaks -- a standard pattern of four per quarter (rather than five, six, five and five), each extended from 1:50 to 2:20. (The NFL's research shows fans notice fewer breaks, not how long they are, Goodell said.) Networks will be allowed to break during replay reviews. At times, a double box allowing viewers to see inside the stadium while an ad plays, or a sponsored break featuring one brand, could replace standard commercials. Some in-game promotion for NFL and partner initiatives will be replaced by more analysis, highlights and other content.
"We have seen commercialization maybe creep into the game in areas that we don't think is appropriate," Goodell said, "and we're going to work with our network partners to try to pull that back, to make sure that we can create that compelling experience for our fans."
Other changes -- including a potential vote to eliminate coaches challenges after or late into a commercial break (another issue Goodell said frustrates him) and an actual reduction of ads and promotions -- remain under consideration as well.
The goal isn't to shorten games, though Goodell estimated the changes might shave five minutes off contests that lasted an average of 3:07:08 last season (down from 3:08:18 in 2015).
"What we're looking to do is take that downtime out, which is not entertaining," Goodell said. "And in our research, we had biofeedback, so we could see what they were watching, and you could tell when they're not as interested in what's happening in the broadcast.
"In today's day and age, we have to give our fans every reason to watch what's happening, find what they see on television and in the stadium as compelling. Don't give them a reason to turn away."
Other frequent targets of fan angst also are being addressed. Goodell confirmed the NFL intends to begin hiring some of the 17 full-time officials permitted under its labor deal. He expects the league "will be loosening up the celebration rules to allow the players a little more expression of their enthusiasm," though the competition committee continues to study that issue, as USA TODAY Sports reported last month, and discussions likely will extend beyond the next meeting.
Further changes to commercials, timing and other areas are likely in coming seasons, Goodell said. As it does with everything, the NFL will roll out changes incrementally, gauge impact and determine what to do next.
As for those obnoxious double-ups, Goodell says the goal is to eliminate them, though significantly reducing them by reducing the number of breaks would be a good first step.
"You're always going to be re-evaluating these areas and trying to say, 'What do we do better here?'" Goodell said. "Whether it's in our officiating mechanics, whether it's in our commercial mechanics and how we work with our TV partners, what we do in our stadiums -- all those things are going to continue to be high priorities for us."
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