- The 2020 NFL Draft drew 55 million viewers across Nielsen-measured channels over three days of broadcasts, the NFL announced in a news release. The event saw overall ratings up 16% year-on-year despite the shift to a virtual format due to the coronavirus.
- The draft broke ratings records as each day established new audience highs, the league said. Thursday night's broadcast covering Round 1 draft picks commanded 15.6 million viewers, a 37% YoY lift, while Friday (Round 2-3) was up 40% YoY and Saturday (Rounds 4-7) was up 32% YoY.
- An average audience of over 8.4 million viewers watched all three days of the event broadcast across ABC, ESPN, the NFL Network and ESPN Deportes. Digital channels easily shattered their previous high of 6.2 million viewers in 2019, posting viewership gains of 35% YoY.
The 2020 NFL Draft's blockbuster ratings offer a promising sign for marketers as other destination live viewing events are canceled or postponed en masse due to the coronavirus. More people tuned into the draft than ever before, including on digital streaming channels, which shows an enormous appetite for sports-related content in the absence of actual games. This could create opportunities for digitally savvy brands and publishers.
There were signs that the networks and their advertising partners expected big viewership turnout over the weekend, and the NFL is signaling they've gotten some bang for their buck. More than 100 brands signed on as sponsors for the 2020 NFL Draft, including 60 first-time sponsors. Lowe's acted as presenting sponsor, while Bud Light Seltzer, Pizza Hut and Verizon sponsored key moments during the telecasts. Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC, last week projected draft broadcasts would see a double-digit YoY lift in revenue due to growth in categories like computer hardware, insurance and gardening.
The NFL also pushed hard to drum up interest around the draft this year, leveraging newer channels like TikTok to engage young fans. The league's #GoingPro hashtag challenge on the video app, which asked users to share creative videos depicting their professional aspirations, drew 580 million views by Friday morning, according to the NFL.
Marquee events like the NFL Draft have the opportunity to command even more of the spotlight because competition is scarce during the pandemic, but they must take into consideration additional technical challenges in coordinating a massive production virtually. While the first virtual NFL Draft proved successful, the league worked with several services providers behind the scenes to ensure it went off without a hitch. The NFL partnered with Amazon Web Services on hosting and managing video feeds, Verizon on phones and connectivity to remote locations, Bose for audio of draft participants and Microsoft Teams for communications and announcing the actual draft selections.
During the draft, the sports organization additionally hosted a Draft-A-Thon Live streaming event to support healthcare workers and other first responders across its digital properties and platforms including Twitch, TikTok, Reddit and YouTube. The NFL said it's raised more than $100 million in COVID-19 relief funds to date.