The appeal of the NFL draft to fans is soaring, with viewership jumping 62 percent over the last six years, according to Nielsen data.
Last year, more than five million viewers tuned in to watch a draft where an offensive tackle (Jake Long) who had already agreed to a deal earlier in the week with Miami was drafted by the Dolphins as the number one pick. That’s almost two million more viewers than in 2002 when the Houston Texans drafted top pick David Carr, whom the franchise hoped would be their star quarterback for years to come.
The NFL moved the start time of last year’s draft from noon to 3:00pm ET in an attempt to tantalize avid fans with more pre-draft coverage and to attract casual viewers who don’t want to spend one of the first warm weather afternoons indoors. The impact was negligible. Change in viewership for the first first few hours of last year’s draft was relatively flat compared to the year before.
This year, the league is moving the start of the draft to 4:00pm ET, meaning even more of the first round will air in primetime on the East Coast. Meanwhile, fans on the West Coast can catch the first pick at 1:00pm PT, instead of a 9:00am start just two years ago.
The high mark for draft viewership came in 2006, when an average of 5.3 million viewers saw Mario Williams lead a star-studded draft class that included Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, and Jay Cutler.