With the NFL being forced to move its entire 2020 draft to a virtual format, it was unclear how successful that audible would be.
But despite losing some of the pomp and circumstance and instant reaction from fans in attendance – as well as the boos for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – the draft not only had little to no glitches but showed a new side to one of the league’s tentpole events.
Voracious Viewership: Sports fans have been itching for new live sports content, and with the NFL Draft likely being the main event on the calendar in April, they showed out in force.
The first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday averaged 15.6 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, and other digital channels and platforms. That easily surpassed the previous high of 12.4 million viewers set in 2014 and was up 37% compared to the 2019 draft.
The second day of the draft continued that success. An average of 8.2 million viewers watched the Friday night coverage on those same networks, an increase of 40% compared to 2019. The third day of the draft was watched by an average of 4.2 million viewers, up 32% compared to 2019.
In total, an average audience of more than 8.4 million viewers watched all three days of the draft, which surpassed the previous high of 6.2 million set in 2019 by 35%. In 2019, NFL regular season games averaged 16.7 million viewers, up 5% year-over-year.
Sticking To The Schedule: The virtual draft was part of the NFL’s insistence on sticking as close as possible to its 2020 league year calendar. The NFL is expected to release its game schedule on May 9. However, ahead of those games is how exactly the league and its teams approach training camp and preparation for the season.
Starting on May 1, NFL teams may elect to hold a three-day post-daft rookie minicamp. Many teams, such as the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, are shifting those to virtual meetings. The same is being done with other offseason programs for veterans.
The big hurdle will be how and when team facilities reopen. Any effort to do so will be complicated by how state and local rules about the reopening of businesses differ across the country.