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ESPN's NFL Draft Coverage Tackles Record 9.9M Viewers

No doubt buoyed by the saga of one "Johnny Football," ESPN’s live telecast of the first round of the NFL Draft scored with just under 10 million viewers, a network record with the collegiate selection event.

ESPN netted a 6.1 household rating and 9.94 million watchers on May 8 with its live presentation from New York’s Radio City Music Hall, according to Nielsen fast nationals data. That was the worldwide leader’s best ever opening night draft delivery in its 35 years of covering the NFL Draft.

The network notched a 49% jump from the 4.1 rating from the 2013 draft and a 60% audience surge from the 6.2 million a year ago.

For its part, NFL Network’s coverage averaged a 1.46 U.S. household rating and 2.4 million viewers – both records for the network. Those deliveries were up 54% and 60% from a 0.95 rating and 1.5 million viewers, respectively, in 2013.

Marking its 10th year of covering the NFL Draft, NFL Network has increased ratings and viewership each year, and was up 121% in ratings and 136% in viewership since 2010.

In total, some 32 million people watched at least one minute of the first-round coverage of the 2014 NFL Draft on ESPN and NFL Network, making it the most-viewed round one ever, according to Nielsen. The cume number surpassed the 29.9 million viewers who checked out some part of the selection process in 2009.

Thursday night’s ESPN telecast peaked at an 8.0 rating between 9:45-10 p.m. (ET), when the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock with the No. 16. Speculation by ESPN’s on-air talent and many others had America’s Team selecting Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s talented QB, whose small stature is overwhelmed by his outsized personality. Manziel was selected by Cleveland with pick No. 22.

Johnny Football’s freefall from the higher rungs of the draft ladder predicted by many pigskin prognosticators likely helped boost the networks' Nielsen tallies – as did the NFL’s decision to push the draft back from its usual late April slot on the calendar, which allowed for the hype machine to switch into full whirl for a couple of additional weeks

The top 10 metered markets for ESPN included Cleveland (13.0), Houston (11.6), Austin, TX (11.3), Greenville, SC (10.8), New Orleans (10.8), Buffalo (10.6), San Antonio (10.2), Columbus, OH (8.9), Greensboro, NC (8.8) and Philadelphia (8.7).