How high will TV ratings for NFL draft climb? WNBA's success indicates it'll be a record week for NFL

Frank Schwab
·3 min read

In 2018, the NFL had record television ratings for its draft. In 2019, the NFL set a new record for television ratings for its draft.

The draft grows and grows, but this year might set a ratings record that won’t be topped.

There are no Major League Baseball games, the NBA and NHL playoffs have been pushed back and there are no UFC fights, no matter how hard Dana White tries. The sports world is at a halt due to coronavirus, but there’s one huge event that hasn’t changed. The NFL draft will go on as scheduled, albeit with a much different broadcast than we have ever seen before.

[Related: Yahoo Sports’ final NFL mock drafts]

But the unusual broadcast will be part of the draw too. There are a convergence of factors that will lead to a massive audience. It seems logical to assume the draft could shatter any ratings mark it has set in the past.

WNBA draft does biggest TV ratings since 2004

The WNBA draft might have been the second biggest event on the sporting calendar for April. And it did really well.

The virtual draft, led off with charismatic Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu going first to the New York Liberty, was the most watched WNBA draft in 16 years. It had a 123 percent increase from 2019, ESPN said, with an average of 387,000 viewers.

Having a 123 percent increase from last year isn’t realistic for the NFL. Its draft already had a massive audience. But with mostly everyone under stay-at-home orders, and nothing else going on in sports, and a draft that’s full of stars and intrigue, it will be fascinating to see how high the numbers go.

Last year, the NFL draft drew an average of 6.1 million viewers across NFL, ESPN and ABC TV and digital channels. It reached reached more than 47.5 million viewers over three days, which was a 5 percent increase from the record ratings of 2018.

And the 2019 draft wasn’t even considered a great one, in terms of star power.

Kyler Murray was the first overall pick of last year's draft. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kyler Murray was the first overall pick of last year's draft. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NFL draft will be huge this year

Casual fans will tune in because nobody is going out, everyone is probably weary of binge-watching everything on Netflix and the way the NFL broadcasts the draft amid the coronavirus restrictions will be a spectacle. We already have heard NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the picks from his basement. There has been endless coverage about NFL teams worrying about technical glitches. Regardless of anything that happens in the draft, the production itself will be a story. We’ve never seen anything like what will unfold from Thursday through Saturday.

And the draft is a good one. Three quarterbacks — LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert — could be selected in the top five or six picks. Ohio State’s Chase Young is a recognizable defensive star and he’s expected to go second overall. There are a number of talented receivers who could be selected in the first round. Even in normal times, it would be a draft worth watching.

The way people tuned in to watch the WNBA draft gives us a hint of things to come this week. When the NFL draft starts Thursday night, it’ll be a bigger television event than ever before. This draft will be historic, in many ways.

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