NFL Network averaged 930,000 viewers for its three days of draft coverage, setting a new record for the net. The audience was up 23% from the previous record of 757,000 viewers last year. NFL Digital Media properties also saw over 13 million unique viewers, up 31% from last year, fueled by increased traffic to NFL Mobile. Meanwhile, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 3.04 million viewers for a combined three days of NFL Draft coverage this year, up 4% from coverage the past two years. The figures remain behind the record-setting audience in ’10, which was the first year the first round aired in primetime. The top market for ESPN/ESPN2’s coverage was New Orleans (4.7 rating), followed by Birmingham (4.5) and K.C. (4.4) (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).IN REVIEW: ESPN NFL Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman said that analyst Ray Lewis is "likely to work the first round of next year's draft." Markman: "I think he can add something on the big night. I don't want him to have to know 300 players but if I told him to study the top 25 defensive players, I think it could be really special." SI.com's Richard Deitsch reports both ESPN and NFL Network execs said that they "plan to once again reinforce the Twitter pick-by-pick ban for staffers during the opening rounds of the 2014 Draft." Deitsch also reviews the coverage of this year's Draft and writes NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock "continues to be the singular best talent on either set, and it really becomes apparent on the third day of the draft when his deep research kicks in." Meanwhile, ESPN's Jon Gruden was "significantly better this year than in previous drafts," as he was "strong on the significant questions regarding" Jets QB Geno Smith. Markman said, "This was the best I've ever seen Jon Gruden. Jon has been doing this a few years now and he's supremely talented. But I thought the Jon we saw Thursday night was the best we have ever seen him" (SI.com, 4/29). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes Gruden was the "star" of the draft. He was his "usual entertaining self, but he added quite a bit of bite to his bark, criticizing picks and players." He "didn't go overboard" but he was "honest when he didn't like a particular player being picked in a particular spot." Meanwhile, NFL Network host Rich Eisen was "head and shoulders better than" ESPN's Chris Berman, who had a "struggle" during the first round Thursday. The "big problem was he had to stretch his segment on occasion until commissioner Roger Goodell was ready to announce the next selection, and often he didn't know if he needed to fill for 10 seconds or one minute. So, in that no-man's land, he had no definitive plan and often just rambled" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/29).
CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Mike Yanier writes public opinion "turned against" reporters who tweeted out draft picks before they were announced by Goodell, as they were "accused of ruining the suspense of the event." The NFL "ordered its experts to keep advance knowledge under wraps, the better to preserve the integrity of the telecast and it's precious advertising revenue." But "insiders at other outlets did precisely what they are paid to do, have trained to do, spend their careers putting themselves into position to do and are typically applauded for doing." Withholding information from Twitter is an "odd phenomenon," as many fans want "instant gratification 364 days per year, but for the first round of the draft they want Victorian Christmas." The "fact that pick-tippers might be wrong makes the first round of the draft more suspenseful and compelling, not less, and the event frankly needs all the help it can get" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 4/29).
THE SELLING OF THE FUTURE: Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio said the NFL Draft has "great energy" for the early rounds, but he did not stick around for Saturday's activity because it "gets very tedious." He noted of the “spectacle” of the NFL draft, “I understand that it's part of the selling of hope, and the NFL is very good at that. And the fans get caught up, they want to know who they're going to get. The run up to the draft, it’s a big deal and then when it’s all over it’s like, ‘Alright what’s next?’” NBC Sports Network’s Dave Briggs added, “They're doing something right. You're talking about 7 million people watching this thing (the first round) combined. That is World Series game average. That’s like a number two, number three game of the World Series. Even though you and I weren’t passionate about it, people love this stuff because the NFL is the best product on the planet” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 4/26).