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Saturday, May 18, 2024

First Round of 2024 NFL Draft Averages 12.1M Viewers

  • TV/digital viewership for QB-heavy draft up 6% from last year.
  • Unduplicated audience of 34.3 million is highest since 2021.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the crowd with Eminem and Detroit Lions Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Aidan Hutchinson and Hall of Famers Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders on the stage before Round 1 of the NFL draft on April 25, 2024.

The NFL and TV partners ESPN and NFL Network know quarterback-driven NFL drafts spell TV ratings gold. 

That dynamic played out again Thursday night as a record six quarterbacks were selected in the first 12 picks of the 2024 NFL draft. With NFL franchises going QB-crazy, Thursday’s first-round coverage drew an average audience of 12.1 million across ABC, ESPN, and the NFL’s linear and digital platforms. That’s higher than the average viewership for the 2023 NBA Finals, World Series, and Stanley Cup Final, and up 6% for the comparable 11.4 million during the ‘23 draft. The total unduplicated audience of 34.3 million viewers was the highest since 2021.

Meanwhile, over 275,000 fans showed up during day one in Detroit to support their teams, shattering the previous record of 200,000 for the 2019 draft in Nashville.

Contrary to popular belief, ESPN pulls bigger TV audiences during draft week than Super Bowl week, according to executive producer Seth Markman. That’s because fans of all 32 NFL franchises have skin in the game during the three-day draft compared to only two fanbases for the Big Game.

“During Super Bowl week, there’s only two teams, there’s only two fanbases left. If you root for one of the other 30 teams, you’re not that invested. But the draft is for everybody. It’s all 32 fanbases. It’s high theater; it’s reality TV,” says Markman, who oversees ESPN and sister Disney network ABC’s draft coverage.

“Seeing the kids, seeing their families, seeing their lives change in front of your eyes. To me, it’s this perfect storm of all the NFL fans. It’s almost the official start of next season.”

Ultimately, the TV appeal of the draft can be summed up in one word: hope, according to NFL Media executive producer Charlie Yook. During the draft, hope springs eternal, every team is 0-0, and any team can pick the next Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady.

“The hope is a player comes in and changes the direction of a franchise. C.J. Stroud gets picked—and the Texans all of sudden become a playoff team. Brock Purdy is Mr. Irrelevant—and he’s playing in the Super Bowl,” Yook tells FOS. “Someone in this [year’s draft] will be a superstar or a Hall of Famer. And that’s what draws people into this event. Hope is a good thing.”

Goodell’s Best Idea: Day Off After Super Bowl

Roger Goodell actually might get crowds to cheer for him if he pulls this one off. During an interview with ESPN’s Pat McAfee on Friday, the NFL commissioner said he’s mulling the creation of an 18-game regular season that would culminate with a national holiday the day after the Super Bowl.

Here’s how Goodell’s idea for a Super Bowl President’s Day weekend would work: 18 regular-season games and two preseason games, compared to the current 17 regular-season and three preseason games. That would include a second bye week, extending the regular season by one week. Which means the Super Bowl would be played on the Sunday night before President’s Day, a national holiday. “And then you have Monday off,” Goodell noted.

Of course, we’re a long way from this happening. Adding another regular-season game would have to be collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association. Some top players would vehemently oppose another game due to health concerns. But given the unpopularity of preseason games, it’s an idea that could have legs. What the NFL wants, it usually gets.

As Goodell told McAfee: “The reality is, I’d rather replace a preseason game with a regular-season game any day. That’s just picking quality. If we get to 18 and 2, that’s not an unreasonable thing.”

Meanwhile, Goodell made no apologies about invading the NBA’s longtime TV domain of Christmas Day games. Despite Yuletide falling on a Wednesday, the NFL will televise a doubleheader this Christmas Day against the NBA’s typical five-game TV slate.

“I don’t ask permission for that. We go where the fans are,” said Goodell.

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