The NFL’s regular-season ratings may have dropped for a second-consecutive year, but somehow last week’s draft still finished as the most-watched in league history.
Shown across ESPN, NFL Network, Fox, ABC, ESPN 2, and ESPN Deportes, the NFL Draft averaged 5.5 million viewers for a total average household rating of 3.57, which is to say that 3.57 percent of households were tuned in to one of the broadcasts. So not only did the ratings improve by 25 percent, but the combined viewership was up 20 percent from last season as well.
The ratings uptick comes at good time for a league that lost some of its audience for the second consecutive season.
The average audience was 14.9 million viewers per game, down 9.7 percent from 16.5 million viewers in the 2016 regular season, according to Nielsen. The 2016 viewership was down eight percent from the previous year.
Not only did the ratings improve by 25 percent, but the combined viewership was up 20 percent from last season as well. It certainly helped that the New York Jets – who boast one of the league’s largest fan bases – had the fourth pick, which they used on USC’s Sam Darnold
There were several reasons the draft was such a ratings success, including Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin (left), who was picked by Seattle despite having only one hand, and the fact that New York, the NFL’s largest market, had two teams with top-four picks
But despite the overall trend, the NFL still enjoyed large audiences throughout the draft. Even Day 3, which is typically overlooked by fans, still averaged a record 2.9 million viewers on Saturday.
Thursday’s coverage of the first round garnered a 7.0 rating, which was up 27 percent from 2017. The total audience was 11.2 million viewers – a 22 percent improvement.
One likely reason for Thursday’s ratings success was the fact the two teams from the largest market, New York, made top-four selections. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and USC quarterback Sam Darnold went to the Giants and Jets with the second- and fourth-overall picks, respectively.
Fans responded immediately to the picks, helping Barkley’s jersey generate more sales than any other first-round pick on Thursday, according to Fanatics.
Exact figures have not been released, but Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. predicted Barkley would be popular.
‘Btw 26 in the big blue jersey WILLL be the number one sellin Jersey in America next year,’ Beckham wrote on Twitter, referring to Barkley’s number with the Nittany Lions. ‘Takin all bets!!!? @saquon can’t wait Lil brudda.’
The official sales figures won’t be recorded until the players pick their numbers, according to ESPN.
There were also compelling human-interest stories, like that of Central Florida’s Shaquem Griffin – a one-handed linebacker who was picked by the Seattle Seahawks, the team that already employs his twin brother, cornerback Saquill.
Whether it was the intrigue over which quarterback the Cleveland Browns would select first overall, or simply the fact that two New York teams had top-four picks, the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night enjoyed a ratings spike, finishing with an 8.4 overnight
Linebacker Shaquem (left) and cornerback Shaquill (right) will now play together with the Seattle Seahawks after previously teaming up at Central Florida
Another reason for the ratings boost may have been the situation atop the draft, where the Cleveland Browns selected Heisman Trophy winner and former Oklahoma Sooners star Baker Mayfield.
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen had been in consideration for the top pick, according to several reports, but he was passed over on Thursday after tweets he had written as a high schooler in 2013 emerged in which he used racial epithets.
According to Yahoo Sports, Allen repeatedly used the n-word in the tweets, and in one response to the question ‘Why are you so white?’, he replied: ‘If it ain’t white, it ain’t right!’
Allen’s response in this case seems to be a reference to the sit-com ‘Modern Family.’ Some of the other tweets, he explained to ESPN, either came from rap lyrics and there is a possibility that other tweets were actually written by his friends.
Whether or not the Browns passed on Allen because of the situation with the tweets is up for debate, but what is certain is that Mayfield will enjoy a more lucrative rookie contract because he was picked first.
Because rookie contracts are determined by draft position, Mayfield’s deal will be valued at about $32 million over four years, while will earn an estimated $21 million over his first four seasons, according to Spotrac.com.
Mayfield will have a cap figure in 2018 of $5.9 million, whereas the second-overall pick, Barkley, will earn $5.6 million in as a rookie. The 32nd and final pick in the first round will have a 2018 base salary of $1.7 million.
Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium after the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield as their pick during the first round of the NFL football draft
Despite falling to seventh overall, Josh Allen was all smiles after being drafted by Buffalo
The ratings improvement came at a good time for a league, which has dealt with a number of challenges in recent years.
Beginning with now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2016 NFL preseason, many players generated nationwide controversy peacefully protesting inequality and police violence against minorities by refusing to stand during the national anthem.
The NFLPA does not believe that Kaepernick caused NFL ratings to fall.
‘I think every bit of detailed analysis demonstrates that it is wrong,’ NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith told reporters ahead of Super Bowl LII in February. ‘There isn’t a television show, a news show that isn’t at least experiencing a double digit decline.
‘To try to pin declining ratings on any single thing is being intellectually dishonest.’
The NFL also faced negative press over the ongoing issue with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – the long-term degenerative condition linked to head injuries that afflicted a number of deceased football stars. In August, a Boston University study diagnosed CTE in 110 out of 111 deceased former NFL players as part of the biggest ever case series on the disease.
The danger of the sport has certainly affected mothers, 53 percent of whom would persuade their children to play another sport, up from 40 percent in 2014, according to the Journal.
But despite the drop in viewership, 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows and 37 of 50 on television in 2017 were pro football games, and both NBC and ESPN had the most-watched shows every week of the season in terms of total audience and in all key male demographics.
Colin Kaepernick (No. 7) and his then-49ers teammates take a knee during the national anthem during the 2016 season. Many blame the peaceful protests for the league’s ratings decline
Ryan Shazier, right, walks with his wife Michelle to announce the Pittsburgh Steelers selection in the first round of the NFL football draft. An injury in December temporarily left Shazier without feeling in his legs, which is why he received such an ovation on Thursday night
The NFL’s Red Zone cable channel, which takes viewers to different games whenever there is a scoring opportunity, drew an estimated 1 million weekly viewers, although some have suggested that it hurt the league’s ratings overall by siphoning viewers away from the NFL’s network partners like CBS and Fox.
NBC’s ‘NFL Sunday Night Football’ was the most-watched program in prime time, with 18.2 million viewers this past season. That figure is down from 20.3 million viewers in 2016 and 22.5 million in 2015.
Furthermore, February Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that the league’s core audience is rapidly losing interest.
Among adults, the number of those who followed the sport closely dropped nine percent since 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal. What’s worse, only 51 percent of men between 18 and 49 say they follow the NFL closely, which is down from 75 percent only four years ago.
‘If I’m the NFL I’m freaking out about that a little bit,’ Republican pollster Micah Roberts told the Journal. ‘They are the very core of the football-viewing audience. If they’re retreating, then who’s left?’
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league’s ratings and earlier that month.
‘We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,’ Goodell told reporters before the Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. ‘We’re likely to be the No. 1 show on Fox — excuse me, on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night, prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday Night Football is No. 2.
‘I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.’
MAYFIELD NAILS FAVRE DRAFT PIC
Baker Mayfield’s mother reportedly purchased wallpaper to match the wood paneling of Brett Favre’s childhood bedroom, and since they already had the jorts, all they needed was to decorate the space with pictures of Mayfield’s days in youth sports
Hours ahead of Thursday night’s NFL Draft, where he was picked first overall by the Cleveland Browns, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield took the time to precisely emulate his hero Brett Favre, right down to the trademark jorts.
Mayfield recreated the famous photo of Favre from 1991, when he learned he had been drafted out of Southern Mississippi by the Atlanta Falcons. Favre, who would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, was seen laying down in his crowded bedroom with a cordless phone, a pair of jean shorts, and a wide grin – all of which Mayfield captured in his version on Wednesday night.
A native Texan, Mayfield has been likened to Favre for both his boisterous personality, southern roots (he’s from Texas), and reckless playing style
‘There are those people who are in your corner no matter what, you can’t do any wrong, even when you do wrong,’ Mayfield wrote in his Twitter post, quoting Favre. ‘And then there are those people that no matter what you do they’re going to dislike you and that’s not going to change.’
Favre seemed to enjoy the tweet and responded Thursday, ‘Good luck tonight….and remember to send my Jorts back tomorrow.’
A native Texan, Mayfield has been likened to Favre for both his boisterous personality, southern roots (he’s from Texas), and reckless playing style.
The Favre photo was originally taken by a local newspaper, but later spread to national magazines and television after Favre broke out as a member of the Packers.
According to ESPN, Mayfield’s mother purchased wallpaper to match the wood paneling of Favre’s childhood bedroom, and since Mayfield already had the jorts, all they needed was to decorate the space with pictures of the quarterback’s days in youth sports.
The entire project took roughly an hour, according to ESPN.
Brett Favre seemed to enjoy the tweet and responded Thursday morning