Richard Sandomir of the New York Times writes that no matter how you feel about soccer, you can’t argue about its pace of play:
The World Cup has shown again that soccer is very kind in its brevity. A 90-minute game takes less than two hours to finish. Even one that needed 30 minutes of added time, like the United States’ loss to Belgium, ended in 2 hours 35 minutes — which would get you to the sixth inning of many Major League Baseball games.
With its constant action and lack of natural in-game stoppages, soccer avoids the bloated commercial breaks of other sports; timeouts that turn the final minute of N.B.A. games into dreary, real-time marathons; clock stoppages for first downs in college football; fidgeting pitchers and dawdling batters who should be on a clock; and video reviews. Soccer has its problems — flopping, game fixing, FIFA’s leadership, the choice of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup — but the length of its matches is not one.
I wonder if ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC would have seen an average of 4.1 million viewers for the World Cup’s first 56 games — a 44 percent leap from 2010 — if there were timeouts and breaks that stretched the broadcasts by 30 or 45 minutes. (Would taking time to make some popcorn or use the bathroom dampen fan enthusiasm by breaking the spell of constant viewing?) If coaches had several sanctioned timeouts to huddle for two minutes, would fans love the event as much? Would letting players rest, rather than having them run until they’ve piled up miles on their sneakers, produce the same game?
The experts weigh in:
“I haven’t seen anything to suggest that American sports are at a disadvantage because their duration is longer,” said Mike Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming and research at Fox Sports Media Group, whose networks such as Fox Sports 1 will carry the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. “But I do think the pace of soccer is an advantage; there are so many demands on people’s time, and it’s hard to get their attention for extended periods of time. To know a game will end in two hours respects their time.”
How much soccer’s brevity adds to the number of people watching is not known.
“If the format of soccer itself really had a major impact on viewing, we’d see a bump in ratings in league play,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming. “But as a soccer fan who played in college, I enjoy the uninterrupted halves where you get engrossed in the ebb and flow that is part of the lure of the game.”
The World Cup hasn’t transformed me into a soccer guy. I still don’t get all nuances of the game.
However, I do appreciate knowing that if I commit to watching a game, it is going to be completed in neat two-hour package, assuming no extra time. Reminds me of an era when baseball games used to last only between 2-2:30 hours.
Oh, for the good ol’ days.