Fewer commercial breaks, no more refs 'under the hood' this year for NFL games

The days of refs discussing penalties forever could be coming to an end. (Getty)

The simple fact that you’re not reading this particular article on a newspaper with your morning coffee is an indication of how much the world’s media habits have changed in the last 15 years. The NFL is a ratings brute, but as last season demonstrated, even it’s not invulnerable to the march of technology. In an effort to keep ahead of the pace of change, the NFL is in the midst of multiple new-media studies, including one that measures exactly where fans’ eyes go when watching a TV broadcast.

Tod Leiweke, former Seahawks president and current NFL COO, recently told the GeekWire Sports Tech Conference in Seattle that the league has been trying to “replicate the game experience” in fans’ living rooms, observing what sections of the screen draw fans’ eyes and what fans do during commercial breaks. (One hopes the study stops at the bathroom door.) The results of this study will be absolutely no surprise to anyone who has ever watched an NFL game: there are too many commercials, especially the dreaded extra point-ad-kickoff-ad block. It’s a key reason why younger viewers are either switching to streaming options or switching off the game entirely.

“They want a pace of play that doesn’t involve us chopping things up,” Leiweke said. “You’re going to see, next (season) [the NFL] really working hard to tighten up that game presentation and present the game with more of that pace.”

While the “attention-deprived millennials need a constant stream of content” angle is both condescending and inaccurate (literally nobody likes choppy commercial blocks), it’s a good barometer for how the NFL can measure dissatisfaction with its product, and make changes. As a result, the NFL plans to go from five commercial “pods” per quarter to four, meaning more action (and, yes, more ads strung together).

One interesting tidbit: the days of refs going “under the hood” could be coming to an end. Leiweke indicated that referees will be provided with Surface tablets to review penalties, rather than having to go to a specific location and huddle in the equivalent of a boardwalk instant photo booth. (Let’s hope the refs think more highly of their Surfaces than Bill Belichick does.)

Several NFL games will be broadcast online next year, including a Sept. 24 Ravens-Jaguars game that will stream right here on Verizon and Yahoo Sports. You won’t want to miss it.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.