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ESPN gets bad news after NFL draft ratings revealed

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While it might not be Mr. Irrelevant quite yet, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is no longer the surefire No. 1 pick when it comes to NFL draft ratings.

ESPN was still the top network for overnight ratings for Thursday’s critical first-round coverage, but those numbers were down 20 percent from 2017.

Meanwhile, while it looks at first like the NFL Network’s ratings were also down by that same 20 percent figure (1.5 vs. 1.9), the fact that Fox simulcast its coverage actually split the audience.

Which means that what looked at first like a win for ESPN was actually a loss; the total ratings for the draft were 4.4 for the NFL Network broadcast across their own and Fox’s coverage, while ESPN pulled just a 3.9 by itself.

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John Ourand of Sports Business Journal released the final viewership numbers for the first round Friday.

Adding up those numbers, the final score is NFL-produced coverage (including the Fox simulcast) 5.741 million viewers, ESPN-produced coverage (including a college-themed ESPN2 show and coverage in Spanish on ESPN Deportes) 5.483 million.

What’s more, 13,000 ESPN Deportes viewers is microscopic even considering the channel’s limited reach into Spanish-speaking American homes, where football (or, more to the point, futbol) means an entirely different sport, one with nine times as many viewers even for soccer in England, where the 2018 League Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester City drew 117,000 viewers on “el Líder Mundial.”

Did you watch the draft coverage on ESPN?

And that figure on ESPN2, 124,000 viewers? That was an outright disaster. ESPN2 drew more viewers to regular-season WNBA games in 2017, an average of 171,000 — and that was considered a disappointing figure by women’s basketball standards, never mind a media event from America’s most popular sport that drew over 11 million viewers on a Thursday night across four networks.

There is some small solace in the grim news, however, in the fact that 5.5 million viewers still beat the pants off the first round of the NBA playoffs on TNT, which drew just 2.4 million viewers who watched the Milwaukee Bucks force the Boston Celtics to a Game 7. Those numbers were high for basketball, but they pale in comparison with the NFL.

But ESPN continues to run into trouble.

The whole thing is kind of sad when you consider that the appearance of Mel Kiper Jr.’s pompadour way back in the fledgling years of ESPN heralded a new arrival in sports coverage.

Nobody in 1980 believed that wall-of-wall coverage of the equivalent of kids in the park picking teams rather than actually playing football would work.

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But Kiper, Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and the rest of the guys from ESPN’s glory days, who combined solid reporting with an entertaining media package, built a network on it.

But those days are long past; ESPN still has a seat at the table and continues to put out highly watched NFL draft content, but it’s no longer the dominant force it once was.

ESPN might not be Mr. Irrelevant, but neither is it the undisputed top pick.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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