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Coronavirus shut-ins give NFL draft coverage a record TV audience

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks from his home in Bronxville, N.Y., during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday.
(NFL via Getty Images)

The first round of the NFL draft telecast Thursday was the closest thing to live sports in a month, and viewers showed their appreciation.

An average of 15.6 million watched the selection of college players across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network and ESPN Deportes, topping the previous high of 12.4 million in 2014. The audience figure from Nielsen was up 37% over last year.

The economic shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak has darkened stadiums and arenas in all professional sports. There is no guarantee the National Football League season will open on time. But the draft — sans the celebratory red carpet ceremony that has become an event in itself in recent years — offered hope and an escape from the current health crisis.

The production of the draft telecast, which had coaches, owners and general mangers picking players from the homes, was technically smooth. Cheering fans were connected Zoom-meeting-style and shown on the screen before each pick. Players were also shown reacting to the selections from their homes, surrounded by family members.

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ESPN and NFL Network produced fan-centric telecasts, using their panels of NFL experts to analyze the draft while broadcast network ABC focused on the personal stories of the college players and their families.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the first pick in the draft made by the Cincinnati Bengals. Viewing levels for the draft were highest in the Ohio cities of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The second round of the draft airs tonight.


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