Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal announced that their study of four game broadcasts, combined with analysis by other researchers, found that “the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.”
Turns out the Journal’s study merely confirmed a Scientific American investigation that we did 80 years earlier.
While scrounging through our digital archives recently I happened on the article from our November, 1930, issue titled, “How many minutes of play in the average football game?” Author Hugo L. Rusch was the supervisor of the Technical Data Section of the Johns-Manville Corporation. He studied eight college games between 1927 and 1929 that included teams from a few Ivy League schools as well as Notre Dame, Army, Stanford and Ohio State. And he found that the time the ball was actually in play during those games was 12 minutes, 22 seconds. I’d guess that the tendency to use more time-consuming running plays back in the day accounts for the extra minute or so of college game action back then compared to today’s NFL style.
Rusch’s article pointed out that watching football in person was really expensive if you figured you only paid to watch the actual plays. Why, he wrote, you could be paying $24.25 an hour to watch football. Because that’s what your $5 ticket, yes, $5 for a major college game, was really buying you. Rusch concluded that the stress of watching a game in person meant that “even though you may be paying at the rate of $24.25 per hour to see actual football, perhaps it is best for you that there is only 12 minutes of it. If you kept this tension steadily for an hour, you might have to be carried out of the stadium.”
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