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A 'time out' on ads for the NFL [Commentary]

Despite going by the same name, American football and what the rest of the world considers football are completely different games. They have a different level of physicality as well as an entirely different pace. Part of this difference in the pace of the game comes from the way the organizations that oversee these two sports, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and the NFL (National Football League), choose to monetize their games.

If you caught any of The FIFA World Cup this summer you saw the games without any pauses for advertisements. There are no breaks in soccer, leaving no time for ads. Yet they have no trouble monetizing the games through broadcasting rights and sponsorships. On the other hand the NFL — and the National College Athletics Association — run copious ads during their games. This practice of interrupting the games for several minutes for TV timeouts is behind the times and ineffective in reaching millennials who either glance at their phone, surf or skip ahead during ads. These viewers are football's target demographic, and measures need to be taken in order to appeal to them without disrupting revenue.

During many sporting events, and especially the Super Bowl, many ads seem too preoccupied with trying to entertain the audience rather than actually selling anything. As Claude C. Hopkins said in Scientific Advertising: "Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want. ... They forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause." He is right to point out that this is one of the industry's greatest faults. People seem to forget what these multi-million dollar advertising budgets are for. Every dollar spent should be justified by the sales that they yield.

These budgets would be better spent on simpler forms of promotion. Instead of running a 30- second spot where half of the audience will forget which brand produced it by the next ad, the football organizations could implement a model in which the game runs continuously like soccer and yet still shows advertisements in different forms. They could project logos and short silent advertisements, which would still be able to convey the essence of the brand, on to the field during the game, or even run audible ads in the corner of the screen during timeouts. If this was implemented, it would need to be far less obtrusive than the panned Toyota red zone. No matter how they do it, most businesses just need to get their brand out there. More than anything, they want people to have familiarity with their product or service, and this can be done in a much simpler and more efficient manner than a commercial.

If these organizations did decide to go this route they would also be able to delve deeper into social media integration. In order to get people engaged in their brands they could have something appear on the field urging people to tweet or comment what they think will happen next in the game or give an opinion on what has happened with a branded hashtag. This would allow for the brand to gauge how many people are seeing their ads and to target the more engaged people with more content on social media platforms.

Integrating a promotion directly into the game makes it significantly harder for the audience to bypass the ads. The game and the ads will become one and the same. This version of native advertising for the living room will help ensure that the brand's money is not wasted on people who tune out the ads, surf their channels or who recorded the game (I never understood recording live TV, but people do it). It will also offer brands the opportunity to engage their customers in a much more meaningful way throughout the game.

These are just some of the ways for these organizations to bring their monetization into the modern age while also making their fans happier at the same time. People love these games but hate TV timeouts, and they will be a lot more satisfied if they get to see their game at a smoother pace. Times are changing in the advertising world, and the media giants shouldn't shy away from new business models that will help them stay relevant in the dynamic environment they occupy.

Thomas Wise is an advertising major at Towson University. His email is thomaswise@outlook.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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