Non-sports fans are always mystified at how those of us who avidly follow our favorite teams can sit through what seems like little more than a lot of standing around. Well, nagging spouses or roommates have some new information to back up their efforts to gain control of the remote.
A study by the Wall Street Journal last week broke down two Major League Baseball broadcasts (one on Fox, one on ESPN) and found that only 10.9% of the event (about 14 minutes) was filled with action, which the Journal measured as the time the ball was in play.
The newspaper measured from the beginning of a pitcher’s windup to the relevant umpire making a call on the play, including side plays like pick-off attempts. The rest of the game time was taken up with promos, on-screen graphics, close-ups of fans and coaches, and general milling about. For a full 88 minutes, or 68.6% of the time, players on the screen were literally just standing around.
Professional football is even worse for those who crave constant action. A similar Journal report earlier this year analyzed four broadcasts on different networks and found that during the typical pro football game, there are only about 11 minutes during which the ball is actually in play. Players standing around made up an average of 67 minutes of non-commercial screen time.
Generally, it’s up to the networks to select what’s on screen during breaks in the play. All of them will show every pitch, or every snap, but beyond that each sport differs materially in what the networks decide to put on screen. In baseball, they devote less screen time to showing coaches (3.5% of the time) and players in the dugout (2.7%) than in football, where sideling shots of players (3.4%) and coaches (4.9%) are frequent enough to regularly cause coaches to cover their mouths when issuing directions, to prevent lip-readers from tipping off the opposing team.