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There may not be an NFL season come September, but that didn’t stop millions of fans from spending Thursday evening glued to their TV, computer or mobile device to follow the first round of the NFL Draft.
ESPN’s draft coverage made it the third-most-watched network during primetime on Thursday behind Fox, which had American Idol, and CBS, led by The Big Bang Theory.
ESPN said Friday that, based on Nielsen’s fast national overnight ratings, its live NFL Draft coverage from 8-11:49 p.m. EDT managed a 4.4 rating overall and slightly more than 6 million viewers.
In the 18-to-49 group, ESPN had a 5.8 rating among men, which was down 4 percent from last year, the first time the NFL Draft began on a Thursday night. Among men ages 18-to-34, ESPN saw a 1 percent increase.
On a typical night, ESPN draws a rating of 1.1, so Thursday night marked a huge increase. Outside of NFL games, the annual draft of college players ranks as one of the network’s highest-rated telecasts.
In Cleveland, ESPN scored an 8.0 rating for the draft. It got a 7.6 rating in Kansas City, Mo., and a 7.0 rating in Detroit. All are NFL markets.
ESPN also was competing for sports eyeballs with TNT’s Los Angeles Lakers-New Orleans Hornets NBA playoff game, which had a peak rating of 4.2. The average-minute audience for NFL content across ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile Web was nearly 75,000 users, up 11 percent compared with the first day of the draft last year. ESPN.com had almost 10.4 million daily unique visitors, up 7 percent from last year. ESPN Mobile Web had 5.5 million daily uniques, up 52 percent. The mobile use may reflect the big increase in smartphones usage during the past year.
The draft also was covered by the NFL Network, which averaged 1.04 million viewers for the first round. Metrics for coverage on NFL.com were not available.
Editor’s note: This story initially reported that the NFL draft ratings beat The Office but that was only in the male demo.
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