Roger Goodell hosting the 2020 NFL draft. Photo Credit: NFL/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Since COVID-19 has upended our lives and stopped sports as we’ve all known since early March, it’s no surprise that a starved audience has been watching original programming like the NFL Draft and critically-acclaimed documentary The Last Dance. Both drew the biggest viewership of sports telecasts since March 15.

Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand listed the 25 most-viewed sports programs since mid-March in the latest version of his sports media newsletter.

All three days of the 2020 NFL Draft which aired on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network and the first six installments of The Last Dance, which were on ESPN and ESPN2, rank as the first nine spots of the 25 most-viewed sports telecasts. The first round of the NFL Draft on April 23 saw an average of 15.2 million viewers topping all sports programs followed by Rounds 2 and 3 which aired the next day which garnered 8.05 million.

The first episode of The Last Dance drew 6.3 million viewers. Episode 3 was next with 6.1 million and Episode 2 had 5.8 million.

Breaking into the Top Ten was ESPN’s SportsCenter NFL Draft preview which aired in advance of the draft itself. That brought in 2.6 million viewers.

As networks have been scrambling for programming, five repeats appear in the Top 25, the most-watched being the re-airing of the 2019 Masters on April 12. That ranked at number 11 and had 2.1 million viewers. And the repeats are not what you might expect. Instead of being bread-and-butter events like baseball, the NBA and the NFL, the most viewed re-airs are quite diverse ranging from the Beverly Hills Dog Show to golf and figure skating.

Two NASCAR iRacing events simulcast on Fox and FS1 cracked the Top 25 at numbers 21 and 24.

Here is the list of the 25 most-viewed sports events courtesy of Ourand’s newsletter:

Overall, fans are waiting for live sports to come back and the NFL Draft and The Last Dance are proof that an original program will draw viewers. It’s one reason why ESPN plans to air three new 30 for 30 documentaries once The Last Dance concludes.

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.