NFL Draft (Starting Thursday Night)
Has Become American TV Juggernaut

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

Decades ago, the National Football League passed Major League Baseball as the most lucrative sports organization in the world.

The NFL draft, which begins Thursday (8 pm, ABC/ESPN/ESPN Deportes/NFL Network) in Detroit with the first round and runs through Saturday, offers another major reminder why.

Millions of Americans care about the NFL, and they care a lot, even when games aren’t being played.

As a television product, the NFL draft — and the highly publicized first round, in particular — now often draws a larger TV/streaming audience than all but a handful of the most prominent GAMES offered by America’s other favorite sports.

For example, in 2023, the NFL draft’s first round drew an average audience of approximately 11.3 million viewers across the four above-mentioned broadcast channels and their corresponding digital platforms. The 2023 National Basketball Association draft’s first round, another much-publicized event televised on ABC and ESPN, averaged about 4.9 million viewers.

For additional perspective on the magnitude of that 2023 first-round NFL audience, consider that the 2023 NBA championship series between the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat averaged approximately 11.6 million viewers per game, the 2023 World Series between the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks averaged approximately 9.1 million viewers per game, and the 2023 Stanley Cup finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers averaged approximately 2.6 million viewers per game.

Yes, you read that correctly. An offseason NFL event, in which not a pass was thrown nor a tackle made, once again came very close to attracting a larger first-night audience than ALL of those most important ACTUAL GAMES in the CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES of America’s other most popular professional team sports.

Besides NFL games, the only regularly scheduled annual sporting events that routinely have attracted larger audiences than those of the NFL draft’s first round in recent years are the College Football Playoff (the three-game average can surpass 20 million per game), the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament (the three-game average has been in the 14-19 million per game range lately) and the one-hour-long “race segment” of Kentucky Derby horse racing coverage (14-17 million with occasional anomalies). Again, all of those involve actual games/races.

Event — Average U.S. TV/Streaming Viewers
(All Chart Numbers From 2022 Calendar Year)

Super Bowl — 112.3 million
College Football Playoff — 20.5 million (three-game average)
NCAA Final Four — 16.4 million (three-game average)
Kentucky Derby — 16 million
NBA Finals — 12.3 million (per game)
World Series (MLB) — 12 million (per game)
Masters Sunday — 10.2 million
NFL Draft First Day — 10 million
Daytona 500 — 8.9 million
US Open Sunday (golf) — 5.4 million
Preakness Stakes — 5.3 million
NFL Draft Second Day — 5 million
NCAA Tournament Selection Show — 5 million
Indianapolis 500 — 4.8 million
Belmont Stakes — 4.7 million
Stanley Cup Finals (NHL) — 4.6 million (per game)
NCAA Women’s Final Four — 3.5 million (three-game average)
NBA Draft — 3.1 million
NFL Draft Third Day — 2.8 million
US Open Men’s Final (tennis) — 2.2 million
US Open Women’s Final (tennis) — 1.8 million

Thanks to recently signed multimedia contracts worth approximately $10 billion per year all the way through the 2033 season, the NFL is expected to become — within the next few years — the first sports organization ever whose annual revenues routinely surpass $20 billion per year.

The Super Bowl often draws an American TV/streaming audience of more than 100 million viewers, and in recent years, NFL games — including many of the regular-season variety — have produced a large majority of the most-watched TV events in America, and that includes cable and network broadcasts, sports and non-sports programming.

The powerful draw of the NFL can be similarly impressive during its offseason, and there’s no sign of that interest slowing down.

Each of the last five NFL drafts ranked among the nine most watched in history, led by the all-time record 8.4 million average viewers (over the full three-day event and about 15 hours of coverage) in 2020, 6.2 million in 2019, 6.1 million in 2021, and 6 million in 2023.