NFL obliterates old TV ratings record for draft, with 37 percent increase from last year

Frank Schwab
·3 min read

It’s not like the NFL was ever rooting for a global health crisis that would keep everyone in the house and wipe out practically any game on the schedule in April.

But it certainly led to record-setting television ratings for the NFL.

The NFL announced it set record ratings, which is no surprise. There was an average audience of 15.6 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, and digital channels, according to the league. The previous high was 12.4 million viewers in 2014.

There was a 37 percent increase in viewership from last year’s draft.

NFL draft takes center stage

The NFL draft was the biggest sporting event on the calendar in April, and it’s not like there’s much coming up in May either.

It was a perfect storm for record ratings. The NFL had a captive audience. Everyone wanted to see the spectacle of a virtual draft, with weird draft rooms and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing picks from his basement. And the draft itself was intriguing, with many college stars entering the league.

The show went off without any major issues, a testament to ESPN, NFL Network and the NFL. We had the normal draft stories like Tua Tagovailoa going fifth to the Miami Dolphins, and off-the-wall tidbits like Goodell asking for virtual boos as he conducted the draft in his house.

Still, the audience of 15.6 million is stunning. Viewership peaked from from 8:45-9 p.m. ET with 19.6 million viewers, the NFL said. Some leagues would be happy with that kind of viewership for their marquee postseason games.

In this still image from video provided by the NFL, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates in The Plains, Ohio, after being chosen first by the Cincinnati Bengals in Thursday's draft. (NFL via AP)
In this still image from video provided by the NFL, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates in The Plains, Ohio, after being chosen first by the Cincinnati Bengals in Thursday's draft. (NFL via AP)

Ratings do best in Ohio

The three biggest markets for the draft were all in Ohio: Columbus (16.7), Cleveland (15.9) and Cincinnati (15.6). Columbus drew a big audience thanks in part to a heavy Ohio State presence, Cincinnati tuned in because the Bengals had the first pick and Browns fans always are a heavy presence for the draft. The other markets in the top 10, according to the NFL, were: Philadelphia (15.1), Kansas City (14.3), Jacksonville (14.1), Atlanta (14), Charlotte (13.1), Denver (12.8) and (tied) Nashville and Milwaukee (12.7).

Whenever sports comes back, ratings should be high. We’ve missed games and can’t wait for them to return.

The NFL draft was sure to do big ratings, and it’s possible the viewership for its draft will never be topped. Hopefully, we’ll never have another NFL draft in conditions like this.

However long we talk about the NFL, we’ll remember the 2020 draft. It’s unlike any other draft we’ve seen. And based on the TV numbers, a ton of people were watching.

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