This year's virtual NFL draft proved to be a massive winner in the ratings department, The event, across three days, brought in a record-shattering number of viewers despite the makeshift nature of the presentation. Typically, the NFL makes a massive presentation with thousands in attendance to welcome a new class of players into the league. Instead, this year, the event had to be done remotely with a digital presentation, but that didn't matter to football fans who turned up in droves to watch.
According to the NFL, 55 million viewers tuned in over three days. The draft aired on multiple networks including ABC, ESPN, NFL Network and ESPN. The opening night, which saw LSU quarterback Joe Burrow selected number one overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, drew in 15.6 million viewers, representing a 37 percent increase compared to 2019. 8.2 million viewers tuned in on day two, up 40 percent from 2019, with 4.2 million viewers on day three, representing a 32 percent increase. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had this to say in a statement.
"I couldn't be more proud of the efforts and collaboration of our clubs, league personnel, and our partners to conduct an efficient Draft and share an unforgettable experience with millions of fans during these uncertain times. This Draft is the latest chapter in the NFL's storied history of lifting the spirit of America and unifying people."
This comes at a time when virtually all major sports are at a standstill. The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS are all not operating at the moment, given the situation at hand. That has left sports fans starved for content. Even though it wasn't the grand spectacle that it usually is, the draft filled that void for a few days. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro had this to say.
"It's especially gratifying for ESPN to have played a role in presenting this unique event to a record number of NFL fans while supporting the league's efforts to give back. The success of this year's Draft is a testament to the unprecedented collaboration across the NFL, ESPN and The Walt Disney Co. in the midst of such a challenging time."
The NFL draft is looked at as a preview of what's to come during the 2020/2021 season. However, that may be in doubt, given what is going on right now. Large gatherings are suspended for the time being and there is no telling when social distancing guidelines will lift enough for people to fill a stadium. So the question of what this season will look like, if it can happen at all, remains very much in flux.
At the very least, it seems plausible that games could be played without crowds in stadiums. WrestleMania and other WWE events proceeded without an audience. It's conceivable that the first games of this year's NFL season, which are currently scheduled for September, could go the same route. This news was previously reported by ESPN.