By Annie Ross

You want to know how much pent-up demand there is for sports on television during this pandemic?

Thursday night’s first round was the most watched NFL draft telecast ever, with more than 15.6 million people tuning in.

The record viewership — which included numbers from ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels — broke the previous mark of 12.4 million viewers for the 2014 draft. The 15.6 million number represents a 37% increase over the 2019 draft.

Thursday night’s coverage peaked from 8:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET, when 19.6 million viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen. That is up 37% on last year’s 11.4 million.

The draft is being held fully remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks from his home. The first round was essentially free of technical issues.

The “Draft-A-Thon,” a fundraising campaign held in conjunction with the draft, had more than seven million viewers.

“The theme of hope is always prevalent in the NFL, especially with regard to the Draft,” Goodell said in a statement. “In 2020, that’s especially true, as we help honor healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19 while giving our fans something to cheer about as we celebrate the next generation of NFL stars.

“We are thrilled so many people were able to join us last night and we thank them for helping support the Draft-A-Thon.”

Ohio had the top three rated markets: Columbus at 16.7, Cleveland at 15.9 and Cincinnati at 15.6. The rating is the percentage of television households tuned in.

Players with ties to Ohio State were selected with the top three picks. Joe Burrow, taken first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, began college at Ohio State and transferred to LSU. He led the Tigers to the national title and won the Heisman Trophy.


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