Time Starts Dragging: CFL Game Lengths

The CFL‘s game lengths continue to grow and that affects the CFL as an entertainment property. We believe the CFL should review their game length data and make adjustments if necessary to keep game lengths under 3 hours.

After I found games earlier this year lasted 15-20 minutes past the three hour mark, I decided to evaluate CFL game lengths. During September I noted formally and informally the start and end times of CFL broadcasts.

The first two weeks of September, I recorded the broadcast and game start and end times. The following summarized these results.

Average kick-off time after published game time: 7 minutes 52 seconds
Average game length: 3 hours 7 minutes 30 seconds
Maximum game length: 3 hours 20 minutes
Number of games that exceeded 3 hours: 8 (all)

The last three weeks I informally noted the length of all the CFL broadcasts. Again, most games exceeded the 3-hour game length. Only one finished under 3 hours, most finished only a few minutes over 3 hours, while about 20% lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes or more. Of course, this survey was very unscientific. However, based on my observations in watching almost all CFL games this year, I believe it gives and accurate snapshot of the situation.

Why Shorten Game Lengths

Why is this important? First, the CFL needs to differentiate itself in many ways from its competitors. The NFL is notorious for its long games and broadcasts. The CFL needs to extend the CFL identity of fast and exciting to quick game lengths as well. I believe a shorter time commitment makes the CFL more attractive to fans in the stands and on their couches. When you include pre-game travel and arrival time, the game, exiting the stadium and getting home attending a football game can be a five-hour plus commitment depending on the city you live in. In a busy society with lots of competing activities and only so much good weather, this type of obligation can be too much for some people to take on. It is especially difficult on fans with young families and late start times. Shaving time off the experience to arrive home sooner is why you see people leaving late in games when the decision is still in the balance.

It also affects the CFL as a broadcast property. Broadcasters would much prefer a known game length that did not affect their other programming. Cable broadcaster TSN usually follows the game with SportsCentre, so can easily adjust their programming length, but would probably prefer to not abbreviate their first half-hour segment of the show. The CFL broadcasts would improve if there was time for post game analysis. Instead, what we are faced with is a commercial break and a 30-second game summary by the host while the panel looks blankly on. The NHL reduced their game lengths with some game and broadcast adjustments, which has resulted in much faster games (sub-three hours) and additional analysis time which makes the game much more watchable.

You may wonder if any reduction in game lengths would make a difference, especially to fans. I think the goal should be to get the average game length under three hours, and the only games that should exceed three hours are overtime games and games with unfortunate events like long injury breaks or power-outages, etc. If games start finishing at 2 hours 45 minutes, that provides 15 minutes of analysis time to discuss the last quarter and analyze the game. For fans, this could provide a 15-30 minute earlier arrival at home.


The fact is CFL games have been creeping up in game length for a few years. In the mid-eighties game lengths were also a concern and one change made was to reduce halftime from 15 minutes to 14 minutes. I am not sure if the shorter halftime length is still in effect today. Other causes may be the increased popularity of the CFL broadcasts has more or longer commercial timeouts so more commercials can be shown. Start time of games has also become later, with kick-off not occurring until about 8 minutes after scheduled game start, even when the broadcasters had a half-hour pre-game show. The newly introduced official reviewed instant replays have done their part in correcting some errors while extending the game as well.

Prior to Week 14, CFL officials went under the hood 46 times and only 14 plays have been overturned. This percentage of overturned calls has been impressive considering the job CFL officials have on a large field in a fast, action-filled game. This also calculates to just less than one challenge per game in the 47 games played through Week 13. However, despite some controversy, Replay Assisted Calls have affected the game in other ways.

My fear over Replay Assisted Calls was that it would be something else that would extend the length of games, increasing the average game length even more. Each challenge adds approximately 2 minutes to the game. Each challenge that is withdrawn adds on average approximately 1 minute to the game. The figures above do not include withdrawn challenges, which probably average 1-2 per game. The average game sees about a three-minute game length increase due to Replay Assisted Calls, but a game which sees all four challenges used would be extended by about 8 minutes. Add this to average game times of the last few years of three hours plus and you are getting much farther away from sub-three hour games.


A number of changes can be made to shave time off CFL games. First, let me note that changes should be proposed with consultation of the broadcasters and fans, the two most affected groups by game lengths.

  1. Perform opening kick-off of games with pre-game broadcasts closer to scheduled start time. For example, if a game is supposed to start at 7:30 PM and a half-hour pre-game broadcast is shown, kick-off should occur shortly after 7:30 PM, not at 7:38 PM. This should help shorten games by about five minutes.
  2. Ensure breaks are properly timed and review their lengths for timesavings. This includes quarter time and halftime breaks along with 3-minute warnings and commercial timeouts.
  3. Reduce the number of challenges to one per team per game and adjust the window for withdrawing challenges so they cannot be revoked just prior to the 90-second review being completed.
  4. Look at the rules for changes to clock management. Perhaps there are certain situations when the clock can continue to run in the first half where it currently stops now.

The goal should be to try a reduce the average game length by 15 minutes, which should bring the game length for about half the games to under 3 hours, while the other half will be much closer to the 3 hour mark. I believe this progress towards shorter games will help the CFL as an entertainment property.

What do you think? Are you concerned about the length of CFL games, whether attending in person or watching on TV? Am I on track here or way off base? Are these suggestions too radical? What would you propose, if anything? Speak up, the CFL may be listening.

One Response to “Time Starts Dragging: CFL Game Lengths”

  1. Bill Says:

    The game lengths don’t really bother me. There have been some longer ones this year but I think you’re still pretty safe with the 3 hour time (or maybe 3 and a quarter).

    One thing that might help would be starting the games when they’re supposed to start. It’s probably more to due with popularity of the CFL I think. Even if there’s like a 30 minute pre-game, say people don’t tune in until the game is supposed to start. Then if they delay the game those few minutes, that gives the network precious “extra” minutes to give more game news and show a series or two of commercials.

    One thing I don’t like is long games that are BORING! So get rid of the boring games :)

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