Yesterday the National Football League draft broadcast set an all-time record for viewership. And it didn’t just sneak past the prior record, either — it obliterated it. Some 15.6 million people tuned in to watch the draft, which is 37 percent more than the number of people who watched the 2019 draft.
Gee, I wonder why the viewership numbers went through the roof? After all, the NFL draft is normally one of the most overhyped, boring events imaginable, with a bunch of delays between picks and countless talking heads yammering about the best player still “on the board.” And this year, where all of the participants in the draft were carefully maintaining social distancing and sheltering in their different houses, there was even less drama than normal. No rational person would spend hours watching the NFL draft — unless it turns out to be the only live event for a major sport in, say, six weeks, and a bunch of sports-starved Americans are dying to watch something, anything, that wasn’t recorded in 1988.
I’m guessing that the rest of the NFL draft will set records, too — because what else are you going to watch? And if some of the lesser sports want to increase their fan base, they might just decide to put on some made-for-TV event that allows Americans to satisfy their lust for sports. Badminton? Curling? Bocce? They all allow participants to maintain some appropriate distance, and yet also involve that essential element of competition. At this point, the true sports nuts would probably be willing to watch two geriatric guys at some retirement center in Florida play a death match on the shuffleboard court.
The interesting thing about the NFL draft is whether the extraordinary ratings mean anything about what fans are going to do when the restrictions are lifted and sports begin to actually be played again, in arenas and stadiums. Will they go watch live, or has weeks of social distancing caused them to want, instead, to only watch the games on TV? I’m guessing that there’s a fair number of people who will happily don their masks and go to see their favorite team play — especially if its an event that is played outdoors.