SBD/May 2, 2011/Media

NFL Net Earns Best Draft Audience Yet, While ESPN Dips From Record Viewership In '10

NFL Network sets viewership record for three days of NFL Draft
NFL Network averaged 566,000 viewers for its three-day coverage of the '11 NFL Draft, the net's best mark in the six years it has broadcast the event live. The net's previous record was set last year with 560,000 viewers. NFL Network's coverage of the first round Thursday night averaged 1.04 million viewers, the net's best opening round audience ever. Friday marked the net's best rounds two and three ever with 549,000 viewers. Coverage of the final four rounds Saturday saw viewership rise 7% from '10. ESPN averaged 2.994 million viewers for its three-day coverage of the Draft, down significantly from last year's record-setting audience. The net averaged 6.003 million viewers for Thursday's first round, down 17.7% from 7.290 million viewers in '10. ESPN and ESPN2 combined to average 2.386 million viewers on Friday night, down 28%. This year's first round competed with an original episode of Fox' "American Idol," Steve Carell's final episode on "The Office" on NBC and two NBA Playoff games on TNT. Cleveland-Akron topped all U.S. metered markets for the first round on ESPN with an 8.0 local rating, while K.C. finished second with a 7.6 rating. ESPN saw ratings among males 18-34 grow slightly (+1%), but saw ratings among men 18-49 drop 4%. ESPN did see gains across its Internet and mobile properties during the first round. ESPN.com saw nearly 10.4 million unique visitors during the first round (+7%), while ESPN Mobile Web had 5.5 million uniques (+52%). The three-day combined draft audience for NFL Network/ESPN/ESPN2 was 42 million viewers this year, marking the second-best NFL Draft audience ever behind last year's figures (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports this year marked the "second-most-watched draft, with 42 million viewers tuning in for at least one minute." Last year's draft earned more viewers, and "potential excuses" for the decline include "strong TV competition Thursday." NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock also said it was a "very poor draft" from a player perspective (USA TODAY, 5/2). In St. Louis, Dan Caesar noted there were "a couple extenuating circumstances this year." The draft had "no ratings from the Birmingham, Ala., market because of massive tornado-related power outages there" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/1).

GRADING THE DRAFT: SI.com's Richard Deitsch reviews draft coverage and writes the "moment where the NFL Network won the television draft" was when QB Ryan Mallett "slid down the draft board to the third round." NFL Network's Mayock, Rich Eisen, Charles Davis and Brian Billick "dug deep into" Mallett's selection by the Patriots with the No. 74 pick, and each "offered insight on why the quarterback had tumbled down." Deitsch: "The network owned the Mallett selection." Meanwhile, ESPN's "terrific quartet" of Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. Saturday "restored order nicely" for the net. Deitsch: "Each year it feels like ESPN's second-day crew outshines its so-called wow guys." But ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman said of announcer Chris Berman, "Chris is a guy's guy, man. People like him, people don't like him. Just like everybody else. My take is he's a guy's guy and I know how the fans respond to him at Radio City. They love him" (SI.com, 5/2).
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