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Start of NFL Draft sets new viewership record

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, overseeing the 2020 NFL Draft from his suburban New York home.

With sports fans starved for live content amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the first round of the 2020 National Football League Draft more than delivered on bullish expectations and set a new event viewership record.

The start of the Draft averaged 15.6m viewers across ESPN, ABC, the NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, and digital channels, smashing the previous high of 12.4m viewers set in 2014. The 15.6m viewership figure was also 37 per cent higher than the start of the 2019 Draft.

The 2020 Draft had several elements going for it. Not only are fans increasingly seeking any sort of live content as the public health crisis continues, but the NFL was already coming off a strong end to the 2019 season and the start of the Draft itself successfully pivoted to a highly complex virtual production that included commissioner Roger Goodell announcing picks from his suburban New York home. 

The coverage of the Draft’s first round peaked at 19.6m viewers between 8:45 p.m.-9 p.m. Eastern Time, not long after the Cincinnati Bengals selected Louisiana State University quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick.

“The theme of hope is always prevalent in the NFL, especially with regard to the Draft,” Goodell said. “In 2020, that’s especially true.”

Fueled in part by the Bengals holding that top pick, the state of Ohio dominated the local-market ratings for the Draft. State capital Columbus was the top individual market, posting an average 16.7 rating, followed closely by fellow Buckeye State markets Cleveland and Cincinnati. 

Rounding out the top-10 metered markets behind the Ohio triumvirate were Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kansas City, Missouri; Jacksonville, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

The Draft continues with rounds 2 and 3 on April 24, and rounds 4-7 on April 25.

The strong viewership embrace for the reformatted Draft marks a macro-level version of the strong audience jump the Women’s National Basketball Association recently saw for its virtual Draft.