Bryce Young and Roger Goodell at the 2023 NFL draft. Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after he was drafted first overall by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The average audience for the first round of the NFL Draft was up 13 percent from 2022, and the ratings growth continued for the following two days. On Monday, the league announced that each day of the draft saw increased TV and digital audience relative to 2022, and the overall average audience of six million viewers (watching draft coverage on any network or any NFL-affiliated digital channel at any particular point; this does not include digital channels not affiliated with the NFL, many of which also did their own draft shows) was up 12 percent from last year:

That’s not broken out by network. But for Thursday’s first round coverage, ESPN averaged 5.6 million viewers, ABC averaged 4.1 million, and NFL Network averaged 1.8 million, and that seems to be about the way the ESPN/broadcast TV/NFLN split breaks down most years. Overall, this number is a big gain over 2022, but not near the heights of 2020, which had the unique situation of being one of the few sports events going on at that time despite COVID-19.

The main takeaway here is that the NFL Draft continues to grow as a spectacle, and continues to produce strong ratings for the networks carrying it. The 2018 move to bring in broadcast TV coverage (which at that point was Fox for the first two days, ABC for the third day) has really boosted the overall audience, and it continues to draw numbers that work for broadcast TV (ABC these days).

As for why this year’s numbers surpassed 2022 by so much, there could be a lot of reasons. But one potential one for the first round is the intrigue around quarterbacks, with three taken in the first four picks (and then round-long focus on if and when Will Levis would be chosen). There was even some late uncertainty on if the Panthers would in fact take Bryce Young first (which they did, as seen at top), and there were plenty of debates on how the other three quarterbacks stacked up. By contrast, only one quarterback was selected in the first round in 2022, and that was Pitt’s Kenny Pickett 20th overall. With the amount of focus on the quarterback position in the NFL, there’s definitely a lot of interest in teams picking players at that position. And that might have helped the strong first-round ratings and set the table for these strong overall numbers.

[NFL Communications; photo from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]

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.