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NFL smashes Draft viewership records with 2020 event

The National Football League continued its strong 2020 Draft viewership momentum, completing the three-day event with its highest average audience ever.

Building upon initial records set for the first round of the Draft on April 23, the league and media partners ESPN, ABC, and the NFL Network finished with a total average US audience of 8.4m across all television and digital platforms. The figure is up by 35 per cent from the prior event viewership record of 6.2m set just a year ago.

The average of 15.6m viewers for the first round, up 37 per cent from a year ago, was followed by 40 per cent year-over-year growth for rounds 2-3 on April 24 to an average of 8.2m viewers, and 32 per cent year-over-year growth for rounds 4-7 on April 25 to an average of 4.2m viewers.

As a result, each of the three individual days of the Draft also set individual viewership records for that portion of the event.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts and collaboration of our clubs, league personnel, and our partners to conduct an efficient Draft and share an unforgettable experience with millions of fans during these uncertain times,” said Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner. “This Draft is the latest chapter in the NFL’s storied history of lifting the spirit of America and unifying people.”

Total US viewership for the event exceeded 55m people, up 16 per cent from last year.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Draft shifted this year to an unprecedented virtual format that featured Goodell announcing picks from the basement of his home and a highly complex production that ultimately included pooling together more than 600 video feeds from across the country when also including fans.

But because of that new format, cameras were in particular brought inside the homes of top picks and team personnel, providing a level of intimacy not previously seen with the Draft, and it will bear watching to see whether some of those elements are maintained even after the pandemic ends.

“The success of this year’s Draft is a testament to the unprecedented collaboration across the NFL, ESPN, and the Walt Disney Co. in the midst of a such a challenging time,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president.

The historic numbers were certainly fueled in part by a fan base deeply starved for live content amid hiatus of most live games due to the public health crisis.

Columbus, Ohio, was the top individual US market for Draft viewership, posting an average rating of 8.8. The Buckeye State capital was closed followed by in-state neighbor Cleveland with an average rating of 8.7, and then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kansas City, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio.