First all-virtual NFL draft sees average of 15.6 million viewers on opening night

Key Points
  • The National Football League said the first-round of its virtual draft attracted 15.6 million viewers on Thursday night.
  • The NFL used its technology partnership with Microsoft to assist clubs collaborating with staff during the four-hour event.
In this still image from video provided by the NFL, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks from his home in Bronxville, New York during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23, 2020. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Photo by NFL via Getty Images

The first all-virtual National Football League draft attracted  an all-time high 15.6 million viewers for the opening round Thursday night, the league announced. 

First round viewership total is up 37% from 2019 and eclipses the NFL's previous high of 12.4 million viewers in 2014. The NFL's top offseason event was a four-hour spectacle, televised on Disney-owned ABC and ESPN channels and the league-owned NFL Network. The NFL said the event peaked around 8:45 to 9 p.m., with 19.6 million viewers.

The draft opened to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showing himself being booed over a feed of video calls, keeping up with the draft-day tradition. Goodell announced all first-round selections from his home in Westchester, New York.


The NFL used its technology partnership with Microsoft to access its Team platform to assist club execs collaborating with staff and other teams during the event. Goodell told he was relieved the event had no errors, saying the "technology worked." He also didn't rule out implementing part of the virtual draft in future events.

"There were elements we'll look back at it, this may change the way we do it," Goodell told the website. 

The NFL said also released top-rated local markets for Thursday's telecast which included Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, Cincinnati Philadelphia, and Kansas City.

The Cincinnati Bengals used the No. 1 overall pick to draft Heisman Trophy-winner Joe Burrow. The Louisiana State University quarterback became the first of three quarterbacks selected in the top 10 and the first of 18 offensive players selected in the first round.

Last year's NFL draft attracted 11.3 million viewers on opening night and 47.5 million viewers across all telecasts for the three-day event in Nashville, a 5% increase from the 2018 telecast.

The NFL also announced Las Vegas would host the event in 2022. The draft was initially scheduled to take place in Las Vegas this month, but the live event was suspended due to the Cvoid-19 pandemic.

"We look forward to holding an even bigger and better event than we could have ever imagined this year," Goodell said in a statement.

The virtual production was another strong event for ESPN, which continues to seek content as sports remain paused. The network also aired the National Basketball Association's WNBA virtual draft last week.

The WNBA said its virtual draft averaged 387,000 viewers on the channel, up 123% when compared to the 2019 draft, and up 33% from the draft's first airing on ESPN in 2011.

NFL Draft held online due to coronavirus pandemic