The 2021 NFL Draft’s first night drew the second-highest viewership ever (despite a year-over-year decline from 2020’s unprecedented heights), and that general trend of strong performance relative to past years (but not year-over-year) continued with the total-event ratings. The three days of the draft averaged 6.1 million viewers across TV and streaming (across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels), a number close to 2019’s 6.2 million but down from 2020’s 8.3 million (which got a boost from the COVID-19 cancellations of most other sports events around that time). Here’s more on that from a NFL release:
The 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland was seen by an average audience of 6.1 million viewers (TV + Digital) across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels for the three-day event, making it the third most-watched Draft ever.
…Digitally, the 2021 NFL Draft delivered an AMA of 261K across NFL O&O, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ABC platforms – up +36% vs. 2019 (192K).
All seven rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft were presented across ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network – the third straight year The Walt Disney Company worked with the National Football League to offer a multi-network presentation of the Draft for all seven rounds.
That last sentence is important for the context of this being the third most-watched draft ever, as the broadcasting setup of all rounds on ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network has really only been consistent for the past three years. However, 2018 had similar potential broadcast reach, with Fox’s involvement leading to the first two nights/first three rounds being broadcast on Fox (plus ESPN and NFLN) and then ABC simulcasting the third day/last four rounds. And it averaged 5.5 million viewers, which was a record at the time (and a 25 percent boost over the previous year’s numbers), but is a long way below the viewership the draft has posted since then. So the draft’s current setup seems to be working pretty well for both the NFL and ESPN.
[NFL Communications; photo of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with fans at the draft from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]