NFL Draft TV Ratings Top Oscars Viewership For First Time in History

Viewership for Thursday night's NFL Draft was the second-highest the league has ever seen, trailing only the virtual draft a year ago. But the NFL accomplished something it's never done, and that's draw better ratings than the annual Oscars.

The NFL announced Friday afternoon that the first round on Thursday night drew 12.6 million viewers, which was a combination of both TV and digital platforms. Just four days earlier, the Academy Awards drew an audience of 9.85 million people.

Thursday night was the second-best opening round of the draft, second only to 2020, which drew 15.5 million viewers who saw NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conduct the draft from the basement of his New York home.

Digitally On Thursday, Round 1 delivered an AMA of 598,000 across NFL O&O, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ABC platforms, which is a 54 percent increase compared to 389,000 in 2019.

The NFL cited 2020's uniqueness of having the draft conducted virtually from beginning to end because of COVID-19 restrictions, and that the best year-to-year comparison is the 2019 draft.

The previous second-highest opening night viewership was in 2014, which had 12.4 million viewers.

The NFL is conducting the draft across three networks—ABC, ESPN and NFL Network—on all three days, which concludes Saturday afternoon. Round 1 was Thursday, Rounds 2-3 are Friday night and Rounds 4-7 begin Saturday at noon ET.

Rashawn Slater and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
Rashawn Slater greets NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell onstage after being selected 13th by the Los Angeles Chargers during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 29, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Oscars, which were broadcast Sunday night on ABC, have seen a downward trend over the years. Sunday's 9.8 million viewers was the lowest in its long history. It's also 58 percent lower than the 23.6 million viewers in 2020, which was the previously low mark in The Academy's history.

For the Academy Awards, part of their struggle was because so many of the nominated movies had not been seen the previous year because of COVID-19.

"Granted, the mere act of mounting these awards during the pandemic provided some cover for experimentation, while diminishing the customary pressure to maximize ratings," media critic Brian Lowry wrote. "That's about the only reasonable explanation for shifting the traditional awards order and handing out best picture before the top acting categories, setting the stage for the night's awkward ending."

The NFL Draft is taking place in downtown Cleveland this year, complete with in-person crowds and fans throughout the venues and open areas.

Goodell opened the Friday night show by introducing several NFL Hall of Fame inductees, and also inductees to the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which included Run DMC and the Isley Brothers.

And despite the TV viewership numbers released by the NFL earlier on Friday, Goodell said the draft had" 30 million viewers" on Thursday night.

The only person who got as many "boos" as Goodell from the crowd was former Steelers running back Franco Harris, who was a big-time nemesis of the hometown Cleveland Browns for several years.