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NFL Draft Looks to Continue Slow Climb Back to 2014 Record Viewership

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft will feature a few television changes that may help viewership numbers this year. FOX will join ESPN and NFL Network to cover the first three rounds of the draft. Rounds four through seven will also be made available on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network. The additional coverage on FOX and ABC will make the draft available to a wider audience of viewers that may not have access to premium channels like ESPN and NFL Network.

Since the 2014 NFL Draft in New York City drew 32 million viewers for the first round, the NFL has been unable to reach that impressive peak again. The draft was moved to Chicago for both 2015 and 2016, drawing only 8.32 million viewers for the first round in 2016 according to Sports Business Daily.

With the move to Philadelphia in 2017, Sports Business Daily reported total viewership grew by six percent and first round coverage brought in 9.18 million viewers. While the electric atmosphere and intriguing outdoor setting drew great crowds in Philly, television numbers continued to be dwarfed by the 2014 high water mark. The NFL will again look to leverage the brand power and prominence of its host, America’s (unofficial) team the Dallas Cowboys.

The new strategy of making the NFL Draft a destination event may drive better in-person fan engagement than the traditional Radio City Music Hall venue of the past, but the league will continue to struggle against some of the same challenges the NFL faces for game viewing. As people become more and more plugged into social media consumption habits, fans expect instant, push-notification results instead of waiting and anticipating live picks. With Twitter users often leaking the pick before the television announcement, the live broadcast is constantly undermined by digital media.

It will be interesting to see how Arlington can bring its own unique identify and flair to the proceedings and if the additional networks will substantially increase the number of fans tuning in to see their teams make selections. With many teams’ quarterback decisions still clouded in secrecy, this may be the year with enough drama and intrigue to measure up to 2014 metrics.