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Roger Goodell Admits That Longer NFL Games May Be Hurting Ratings, Discusses Big Changes

Fewer ads, middling Thursday night games, and faster reviews were all discussed.

At a Thursday morning conference in New York, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed that the league was looking at a variety of ways to shorten games and pick up the pace of play to create a more watchable product for football fans.

This season has seen a double-digit drop in ratings after years of rapid growth. If these causes of this drop had been known by the NFL, the league wasn’t disclosing them, although many outsiders pointed to the general trend of cord-cutting as a powerful factor. The league has otherwise suggested that public focus on the presidential election is a cause, but the fact that the NFL continues to search for remedies after the election’s end indicates Goodell doesn’t believe it’s the only culprit.

In fact, at the DealBook conference, hosted by The New York Times, Goodell made his boldest statements yet, suggesting that the glacial pace of play could be contributing to the viewer exodus. However, he hedged that comment during his speech by also calling the depressed ratings “cyclical,” though he failed to give any context or evidence for that claim.

Remarkably, Goodell volunteered that fewer ads, a powerful revenue generator for the league, could be the answer to speeding up games. He also suggested that changing when the ads run could maintain their number while reducing inorganic stoppages in play to accommodate them.

While he used typically opaque language, the media was quick to put a much finer point on his comments:

Similarly, the proliferation of video reviews by officials is another cause for a six-minute increase in game durations from 2008. He said the league is looking to speed up those reviews for the sake of pace of play as well.

Goodell also acknowledged that the expansion of the league schedule into Thursday nights and international games has diluted the import of games overall. He said the league has been careful not to oversaturate the market because “Every game counts, so that makes our inventory incredibly valuable.”

While these aren’t revelatory admissions to most fans (in fact, Goodell said he got a lot of his feedback from tailgating Giants fans last weekend), this is the first time the commissioner has been so blunt about the challenges and issues the league’s facing.

It’s unclear what timeline, if any, exists for addressing the many issues Goodell discussed, but considering this is the first time he’s spoken so openly about them, there’s a good chance that change is imminent, which should be music to the ears of just about every NFL fan.

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