Of all sports entertainment programs on American TV, NFL (National Football League) football is the most popular. In this article, I’m going to focus on how long football games are in the NFL and what makes up their total duration. By knowing how long the game lasts, you can plan for an event before or after the game.
How long are football games in the NFL? From the 2018-2019 NFL season, an average football game lasts for three hours and 12 minutes. NFL football games are divided into four separate 15-minute quarters. Each quarter is separated by a 12-minute halftime break. There is also a 2-minute break at the end of the first and third quarters for the teams to change ends of the field.
Despite being over 3 hours for the typical NFL football game, this has not discouraged the fans from watching it. Despite the long stretch, NFL games are still the most popular of all American sports. Surprisingly, not many fans know that the actual time the ball is in play, in any NFL game, is only about 11 minutes.
Read on to have a better understanding of how long football games last in the NFL and what makes up the total duration.
How Long Is a Football Game?
Some NFL statistics show that the time consumed, when the ball is actually in play is only around 11 minutes. But that’s not enough reason for not watching the NFL games, especially when it’s the championship match. When all things are included, an average NFL game lasts for about three hours and 12 minutes.
However, if you want to watch it live, be prepared to spend much more time than that. You may fight for parking space and then walk your way into the stadium if you already have a pre-purchased ticket. If you don’t, you still have to line up to the ticket booth.
After getting your ticket, you have to find the spot where your seat number is. All of these steps should take more or less 15 minutes. Want some food? You can get it from a concessionaire inside the stadium. You’ll need additional time for this thing, too.
There could be a lot happening in the game that can stretch the game time. Then there’s the halftime break, which almost everybody is waiting for because of the halftime show. These events will consume at least half an hour.
After the game, you go back to your car, the same as the thousands of people who watched the game. This activity will probably take another 15 minutes. So how long does a football game last if you go live to the stadium? All in all, you might take up around four hours to attend a live NFL game at the stadium.
How long do football games last? From the 2018-2019 NFL season, an average football game lasts for three hours and 12 minutes. NFL football games are divided into four separate 15-minute quarters. Each quarter is separated by a 12-minute halftime break.
How Many Quarters Are There in Football Games and How Long Are They?
You can better appreciate the time you will spend watching an NFL football game if you understand its basic game format.
Every NFL game is played in four quarters. There is a halftime break between the second and the third quarter. If the score is tied by the final whistle, sudden death overtime will follow. The first team that scores in OT will win the game.
One quarter has 15 minutes. The first half consists of two quarters. After the first quarter, a 3-minute break will follow. Next, the second quarter will resume for another 15 minutes. So that brings a total of 33 minutes for the first half.
Then follows a 13-minute and 30-second break, which is in line with the 2017 benchmark followed by the NFL. However, as it is customary, there is live entertainment at every NFL championship game. How long is halftime in the NFL? Halftime is 12 minutes, just like the breaks between the other quarters; however, during NFL Superbowl, halftime is much longer. Since widely known celebrities are gracing the show, you can expect the halftime break in the Superbowl to go over 30 minutes.
The game resumes with the third quarter after the halftime break. Another countdown of 15 minutes then starts. Next, a 3-minute break will follow after the end of the third quarter. Then the fourth quarter follows for the last 15 minutes.
So, it’s 33 minutes for the first half, 30 minutes for the halftime break, and 33 minutes for the second half. Thus, you spend a minimum of 96 minutes or one hour and 36 minutes of game time.
If the final score is still tied at the end of the last quarter, sudden death overtime will immediately follow. Previously, the scheduled OT for NFL is 15 minutes. But this rule was changed in 2017 and was brought down to just 10 minutes. The first team that scores within 10 minutes wins the game.
How Long Are Football Games on TV?
How long is a football game on the TV? An NFL game on TV is a different ball game. It is much more than just watching a football game. Watching an NFL game on TV will subject you to approximately 20 commercial breaks, which may contain over 100 advertisements. Some analysts believe that these TV commercials rack up around one-third of the game or about one hour of showtime.
Therefore, NFL games can last up to three hours and 30 minutes on TV. In fact, the record for the longest NFL game ever played is seven hours. Imagine, spending almost your whole waking hours just watching an NFL game?
Typically, the TV broadcast of an NFL game starts with a small intro from the host. He will begin with a pregame discussion with some analysts and retired NFL players about the things they expect in the upcoming game. Usually, one or two commercials will sneak in before the starting kick-off.
After the game, the host will start a postgame review. In this period, more time will be spent on showing some videos recapping the just-concluded game. Usually, a host will be fielded out in the arena to interview the MVP of the game and the winning coach, including the best-losing player and coach.
What Are the Factors Affecting the Length of Football Games?
A variety of factors influences the length of every NFL game. These factors include the following:
1. Flow of the Game
If the football game is highly intense, and there is constant back-and-forth play between the two teams, the match will be longer than usual NFL games. Most often, when the score is close during the dying minutes of the game, the team lagging behind will call for timeouts.
The coach will try to preserve the game clock so that his team can have more time to get the ball to even or get over the score of the opposing team. If his players are in the offense, they will also try to spike or get the ball out of bounds to preserve the game clock. This strategy will create a slow game flow and can easily add 30 minutes to the total game time.
2. Playing Style
If an opposing team decides to use an offensive strategy of just passing the ball, it will result in a game that is longer than usual. But if a team uses the offensive tactic of running the ball, it will result in fast plays and shorter game time.
A game that has more passes than runs will result in several usual stops of the game clock. Conversely, running plays will result in a more fluid game as clock stoppages will be at the minimum. Running games are often much shorter than those dominated by passing plays.
An NFL game could also get longer if both teams want to use all of their game clocks before attempting to score. However, if both teams try to score the minute they get the ball, the game time will be shorter.
3. Number of Penalties
Every penalty in an NFL game considerably adds to the length of the match. A lot of time is consumed for the referees to check and announce a call. Statistics show that the most extended NFL games were played in 2015. It was also in 2015 when the average number of penalties per game was the highest in the league.
When a referee raises the penalty flag, a whistle is blown, and the game immediately stops. All referees will then assemble. The head referee takes up the call and announces the penalty for the information of the players and the crowd. The ball is then moved to conform to the penalty. This incident could take a minute or more.
If there are conflicting penalty calls between the referees, time will be consumed to resolve their issues. There are also cases wherein there are two foul calls in a single play. Coaches can also stretch the game time by arguing with the referees and disagreeing with their calls.
While penalties and fouls ensure the integrity of an NFL football game, they can adversely affect the flow of the game and displease the crowd. These unavoidable results can stretch the game for hours on end.
4. Replay Reviews
Replay reviews have improved the quality and integrity of NFL football games. Referees and game officials use these reviews to ensure that the right calls are made every time. While they have improved the games a lot, they have also contributed to prolonged game times.
The NFL only adopted replay reviews in 1999. Previously, there were no opportunities to replay and review questionable calls from referees. Football games in the past carried on without so much delay and were much shorter than they are today.
5. Inclement Weather
The weather is one thing that game organizers can’t control. It might be sunny this hour and rainy the next. Lightning can also delay and prolong the match when it is close to the football field.
Rainstorms and heavy snow can also extend the game. Moisture will make it difficult for players to grip and throw the ball. Players are also forced to run the ball instead of passing them.
When a stand-alone primetime game is scheduled on Sunday, Monday and Thursday, there is a higher chance of extended game time than the average NFL game scheduled on a Sunday. There are times when such games have pregame activities, which serve as extra features.
Some of these games may also have a ceremony for a veteran player retiring his jersey. A halftime entertainment could also be an added feature, such as in Super Bowl matches. It is not unusual for Super Bowl matches to have long halftime breaks and scores of commercial breaks.
What Is the Longest NFL Football Game on Record?
Tennessee Titans Vs. Miami Dolphins
Would you believe that there was an NFL game that lasted for more than seven hours? This game was the longest NFL game ever on record. It was the match between the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 9, 2018.
Miami won after passing and running the ball for seven hours and eight minutes. The final score was 27-20. Lightning was the culprit for the extra-long time extensions. The game was delayed by ear-splitting lightning that flashed at 1:11 remaining in the second quarter. It was the first one.
The lightning freak show continued for nearly two hours. When it stopped, the game resumed. Then the lightning came back at 6:47, remaining in the third quarter. Now, it was running for two hours and 2 minutes.
Surprisingly, the fans remained patient and kept cheering for their teams. There were estimates of about 7,000-10,000 fans who stayed and braved the lightning storm. The Dolphins thanked their fans for staying until the end of the game and ‘for being part of history.’
Baltimore Ravens Vs. Chicago Bears
The game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Chicago Bears also made it in the books as one of the longest played NFL games. This game took place on Nov. 17, 2013, and lasted five hours and 16 minutes.
Surprising Statistics Show How Long NFL Football Games Are Played
No matter how long an NFL game is played, it could never be denied that the actual length of time the ball is in play is only 11 minutes. This statistic was confirmed by The Wall Street Journal when it tallied the actual football action in an NFL game in 2010.
That means, most of the time, watching fans were provided with 75 non-action minutes, which consisted of players, coaches, and referees just standing around. However, it seems that these actions don’t affect the fans’ love for the game. They will keep on watching the Super Bowl every time it comes.
Conclusion – How Long Are Football Games?
So, to recap, how long do football games last in the NFL? The average NFL football game lasts three hours and 12 minutes. This extended number of hours does not discourage the fans from watching.
Despite the long stretch, it is still the most popular of all American sports. Surprisingly, not many fans know that there are only 11 minutes in the whole game that the ball is in active play.