The most watched sporting event last night was not played on the ice or on the court. Instead, it was on a stage in Radio City Music Hall, the host of the 2014 NFL Draft.
ESPN’s broadcast of last night’s draft received a 6.8 rating, the best rating of all-time for the event and a 48 percent increase from last year. That makes the draft the most watched program of the night for the second year in a row. NFL Network’s coverage received a 1.9 rating, giving the NFL draft a combined 8.6 rating in primetime. What makes the draft audience all the more impressive is the fact that it went up against — and completely overshadowed — the NHL and NBA playoffs.
Further putting it in perspective, the NBA playoffs’ highest rated first round game featured Memphis and Oklahoma receiving a 3.7 rating on TNT for a Saturday night Game 7 matchup. For an NHL comparison, the Bruins-Canadiens Game 2 on the same night drew a 1.4 rating on NBC Sports Network.
Clearly, the league has pushed all the right buttons with its tweaks to the draft broadcast in recent years, the biggest payoff being the move of the first round to Thursday night. The NFL was also able to build up tremendous demand this year by moving the draft back several weeks into May. Last night’s outstanding rating may only encourage the league to explore moving the event back even further on the calendar.
The draft has come along way since 1979 when ESPN first decided to televise the event. The first draft was for insiders only, but ESPN, and now the NFL Network, have changed that dramatically. Over the years the event has grown in size and popularity, moving from a ballroom in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to Radio City Music Hall, which holds over 6,000. Now the draft is the one of the most watched off-the-field events of any sport.
Over 1,000 members of the media were in attendance and ESPN announced it had 23 cameras at Radio City as well as 316 player highlight packages. The NFL Network boasts 2,500 player video highlights, 13 staffers on the ground, and 20 former athlete staffers such as Deion Sanders and Michael Irving, compared to 11 at ESPN. The wide-ranging coverage has enabled the draft to generate tremendous interest from fans, and an opportunity for the NFL to steal the spotlight away from the other professional sports leagues.