How long is a football game? Breaking down the time between the first and last whistle

While the return of football season is a joy for many, it can leave others asking, “how long is a football game?” in exasperation of missing their favorite show while football is on the television. The game of football itself is officially a 60-minute event, with four 15-minute quarters. Let’s look at just how long a football game is, how long halftime takes, how much time the ball is actually in play, and how many commercials are fit into a broadcast.

How long is a football game?

While reports on this vary depending on the sample size, the average NFL game reportedly takes 3 hours and 12 minutes to complete. In contrast, the average time for a college football game is 3 hours and 24 minutes.

How long, on average, is halftime of a football game?

The length of halftime also varies between the professional and college game. In the NFL, the average halftime lasts 12 minutes, while that extends out to 20 minutes in college football. That extra time at the half accounts for a significant portion of why a college game lasts 12 minutes longer than an NFL game.

The exception for halftime is the Super Bowl, where the halftime is significantly longer at around 20-30 minutes.

How much live action is there throughout an NFL game?

The numbers on how much live action takes place during an NFL game varies, but it is generally between 15 and 20 minutes, with 18 viewed as the average. Those 18 minutes are reasonably loaded with action, seeing well over 100 plays in total. This average has increased, with the Wall Street Journal reporting an average time of just 11 minutes in 2010.

The reason why a game that officially lasts 60 minutes has less than 20 minutes of action is due to the NFL’s rules. The clock continuously runs in several situations while it stops for just a handful.

For example, the clock continues after a running play unless the back goes out of bounds during certain parts of the game. It is the same for a completed passing play, with an incompletion being one of the few events that stop the clock.

Of the major sports, football has the least active time. Baseball is the closest at just over 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the NBA, NHL, and English Premier League all have over 45 minutes of average game time.

However, it is somewhat unfair to judge the NFL harshly on this. Much of what happens before the snap is as important as what happens after the snap. The chess match of an NFL game is played between the offense and the defense before the ball reaches the quarterback’s hands. This is equivalent to the time spent setting up a play in the NBA, NHL, or soccer leagues.

How many commercials are there?

On average, around 25% of the NFL broadcast is commercials. In three hours, that adds up to a lot of commercials in a 50-ish-minute time span. There are around 15-25 commercials per quarter, adding up to as many as 100+ commercials in total during a football game!

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