When ESPN first proposed broadcasting the NFL Draft live in 1980, the former league commissioner, the late Pete Rozelle, wondered why anyone would tune into an experience he thought was the equivalent of “reading the Manhattan phone book.”
Thirty years later, the enterprise has blossomed into a highly rated multiday, multiplatform event for ESPN, with the 2010 NFL Draft generating a 27 percent uptick in total viewers this year.
Starting Thursday, 14 ½ hours of player selection from the college ranks, spread across ESPN and ESPN, averaged 3.7 million viewers, the biggest draft numbers ever for the cable channel in terms of total viewers. (The overall households average was just 2,000 shy of the record, as well.)
Moving its Round 1 coverage to prime time for the first time ever, the player draft averaged 7.3 million viewers, with a record number of fans tuning in to see the St. Louis Rams pick Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first pick Thursday night. That was a 23 percent uptick over last year’s first-round coverage.
A night later, another 3.2 million viewers tuned in to see who got picked in the second round.