In an impressive showing of the NFL's dominant perch atop the sports culture hierarchy, the first round of the draft produced record-setting TV ratings, blowing away the NBA and NHL playoff games against which it was competing.
ESPN's draft coverage Thursday doubled the ratings for the Spurs-Trail Blazers and Heat-Nets conference semifinal games. And that's made even more impressive by the fact that the draft was broadcast on both ESPN and the NFL Network.
Overnights: ESPN NFL Draft: 6.8 ESPN2 Blazers-Spurs 2.7 ESPN2 Heat-Nets: 2.6 NFL Net NFL Draft: 1.9 NBCSN Bos-Montreal 1.2 NBCSN Ana-LA: 0.7
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) May 9, 2014
The 6.8 overnight rating is up a mind-boggling 48 percent from last year, making it the most-viewed first round in NFL draft history.
To put that number into context, consider this (via Business Insider): Last season the NBA had 78 playoff games before the Finals and they averaged a 2.7 rating. Only one -- Game 7 of the Pacers-Heat Eastern Conference Finals (7.1) -- beat this year's NFL draft.
While there was lots of intrigue across the board this year, no single player drew more viewers than Johnny Manziel. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has an enormous fan base, and the curiosity surrounding where he would be chosen drew a significant portion of viewership. The city of Cleveland, where Manziel ended up with the 22nd overall pick, led ESPN's ratings.
Cleveland (13.0) led all markets for ESPN's Rd 1 #NFLDraft coverage, followed by HOU 11.6, Austin 11.3, Greenville, SC 10.8, NOLA 10.8.
— bill hofheimer (@bhofheimer_espn) May 9, 2014
The draft, and Manziel, dominated the social media sphere Thursday night.
More than 6.4 million global Tweets were sent with terms related to the #NFLDraft during the live telecast (8:00 pm - 12:00 am EST)
— Twitter Sports (@TwitterSports) May 9, 2014
Last night, between 8pm EST & Midnight, 5.2% of all tweets in the US and 9.6% of all tweets in Texas included the term "Manziel"!
— Sports Mkt Analytics (@sportsmktprof) May 9, 2014
The NFL draft ratings peaked between 9:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET, when the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock with the 16th pick. That's likely a function of the fact that Manziel, who hails from Texas, was still available for that selection. Dallas selected offensive lineman Zack Martin.