A 2021 NFL draft graphic.

Thursday’s coverage of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft drew solid numbers across ESPN/ABC/NFL Network. It dropped off from last year’s record of 15.26 million average English-language viewers, but as per Paulsen at Sports Media Watch, the draft drew its second-highest viewership numbers ever across networks this year:

The opening round of the NFL Draft averaged 12.52 million viewers across ESPN, ABC and NFL Network Thursday night, the second-largest audience in the history of the event. Viewership declined 18% from last year’s all-time record of 15.26 million, set during a period in which all other competing sporting events were on hiatus.

Thursday marked just the third time that the NFL Draft has cracked the 12 million viewer mark. Beyond last year, the 2014 opening round — in which Johnny Manziel fell to the Browns at pick 22 — averaged 12.37 million.

As per Mitch Metcalf at ShowBuzz Daily, ESPN’s draft coverage (featuring Mike Greenberg, Mel Kiper Jr., Louis Riddick, Booger McFarland, Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, and Suzy Kolber) averaged 6,478,000 viewers, while ABC’s draft coverage (featuring Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Todd McShay, Maria Taylor, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack) averaged 4,192,000 viewers. NFL Network’s coverage (featuring Rich Eisen, Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, David Shaw, Kurt Warner, Joel Klatt, Ian Rapoport, and Melissa Stark) averaged 1,850,000 viewers. That’s 12.52 million. The number goes to the NFL/ESPN cited 12.6 million when you factor in Spanish-language coverage on ESPN Deportes. And Metcalf noted that both ESPN and NFLN saw some year-over-year drops:

ESPN’s share of the NFL DRAFT rating was 2.41, down 0.82 from last year’s number. NFL Network’s coverage was at 0.70, down 0.06 from 2020.

All things considered, those are very good numbers for the NFL. Yes, a year-over-year drop isn’t great, but last year’s draft had a couple of special things going for it with the postponements of pretty much all other pro sports due to COVID-19 and with the curiosity about what a draft hosted from basements and offices would look like. (That led to some notable memes, from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement to New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick’s dog Nike sitting at his computer.) Those caveats didn’t apply in a more normal on-location year like this one, and it’s definitely notable that this still wound up as the second-most watched draft first night ever.

[Sports Media Watch; ShowBuzz Daily]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.