The draft shows why the NFL top other sports

When it comes to sports popularity, American football rules. It is not even close. In other words, there is football and then everyone else. Baseball has hit a resurgent stride to become “America’s Favorite Pastime,” but that time has come and gone.

Steroids and players other illegal substances helped an eroding fan base go ghost for a while as football, particularly the National Football League, steadily climbed up the ladder to take baseball’s throne as the nation’s most populous sport.

But with players like reigning American League MVP Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels) and National League MVP Cody Bellinger (Los Angeles Dodgers) on the rise, baseball has gotten its groove back in the past few years. The last two teams that won the World Series, at the expense of the Dodgers, both got caught dipping in the cookie jar as sign-stealing cheats.

October 3, 2019 © Dennis J. Freeman/Freeman – Washington Nationals hitters found it to be a rough go in Game 1 of the 2019 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With four pitchers taking the mound, the Dodgers pitched a two-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory at Dodger Stadium.

So whatever leverage that MLB thought it had in hopes of catching or even surpassing the NFL one day as the nation’s top watched sport, just went out the window for the next decade or so. It’s too bad that Major League Baseball cannot get rid of its self-indulgent scandals.

As for the NBA, the sport is popular enough with stars like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden doing their thing. But the commercial muscle that the NBA has with its individual-toted stars, it is not enough for the league to go toe-to-toe with the well-marketed NFL.

The 2020 NFL Draft is evident of the enlarged fan support the league and the sport of football have enjoyed for years. According to data presented by Sports Show, from 2005 until now, more than 111 million people have tuned into watching football games.

So what’s the big deal? Well, 40 million people have tuned into watching baseball and/or softball during that same period. That means that baseball, the nation’s second-most populous sport, has a long way to go to catch up with the NFL.

Los Angeles Rams
Wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) played two seasons with the Florida Gators. The Los Angeles Rams drafted Jefferson with the No. 57 pick overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Photo Credit: University of Florida Athletics

The 2020 NFL Draft, in consideration of COVID-19, was a monster hit with fans. With people around the country cooped up in their living spaces due to many stay-at-home mandates carried out by elected officials, the NFL went primetime and kicked fan viewership butt in the process.

With the country in need of a positive energy boost, the NFL came through to give a lot of people a short reprieve from the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league was able to do so by going through the process of holding its annual draft selection party albeit from a virtual perspective.

By embracing the digital age platform, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL gave the nation a good dose of pick me up. The three days of the 2020 NFL Draft, even without the usual fanfare of fans going over the top with their cheering and drafted players sumo wrestling Goodell, felt like a breath of fresh air.

That sense of normalcy was reflected in the viewing public. With states and local jurisdictions operating stay at home guidelines due to COVID-19, it should not be surprising that the league received its highest viewership of the NFL Draft for all three days. A Nielson-measured tally had more than 55 million people tuning in to the NFL Draft for the three days, an increase of 19 percent from 2019.

The first day of the spectacle event was a clear indicator that this year’s draft may surpass other highly-watched shows from the past. The first day of the 2020 NFL Draft had more than 15.6 million viewers watching, a jump of 37 percent from last year. Even Day 2 and Day 3 of this year’s NFL Draft saw an increase in viewership.

On Day 2 (Round 2 and Round 3), the league saw a 40 percent increase in viewers tuning in. With people sheltering in place, Day 3 of the NFL Draft was up 32 percent from 2019. On average, the 2020 NFL Draft saw a 35 percent increase overall with people watching mega-event.

Rams 2020 draft pcik Cam Akers
The Los Angeles Rams’ first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft is Florida State running back Cam Akers (3). The Rams selected Akers with the No. 52 pick overall. Courtesy photo /Jacob Gralton

“I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts and collaboration of our clubs, league personnel, and our partners to conduct an efficient Draft and share an unforgettable experience with millions of fans during these uncertain times,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“This Draft is the latest chapter in the NFL’s storied history of lifting the spirit of America and unifying people,” Goodell continued. “In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of so many talented young men, we were pleased that this unique Draft helped shine a light on today’s true heroes – the healthcare workers, first responders, and countless others on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. We are also grateful to all those who contributed to the NFL family’s fundraising efforts.”

The virtual draft, operated and hosted by Goodell from the basement of his home, came across as being in touch with people and presented an atmosphere that the NFL family and the nation are a family.

Not only did Goodell and the league excel at that talking point, but the league was also smart enough to bring the draft experience to players’ homes as they sat around on their sofas and couches waiting for THAT CALL from their future employer.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is playing at a high level right now. Photo by Mark Hammond for News4usonline

Not only did the NFL Draft celebrate players coming into the league, Goodell and his team were smart enough to incorporate the league’s continued efforts to raise money for COVID-19. So far, the NFL family has raised more than $100 million in its COVID-19 philanthropic relief efforts.

So as the NFL was injecting some joy into people’s lives by bringing more than 600 cameras into the homes of players, their families, team coaches, and general managers, the league and its partners were also reminding folks in a subtle way that these are not normal times. As the three-day draft progressed, Draft-A-Thon LIVE, a fundraising campaign that Goodell touted for COVID-19 relief, was being held.

“This year’s NFL Draft clearly took on a much greater meaning and it’s especially gratifying for ESPN to have played a role in presenting this unique event to a record number of NFL fans while supporting the league’s efforts to give back,” said ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro. “The success of this year’s Draft is a testament to the unprecedented collaboration across the NFL, ESPN, and The Walt Disney Co. in the midst of such a challenging time.”

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