ST. LOUIS — ESPN and NFL Network executives had boldly stated before the NFL draft began that they didn't think the ongoing labor problems between the league and its players would affect ratings for their telecasts of the proceedings. But viewership figures for the first two days of coverage this year have come in well under the record figures of 2010.
The first round of the draft again was held in prime time, after a hugely successful debut in the nighttime spotlight last year, but viewership declined 16 percent according to preliminary figures from The Nielsen Co. The networks attracted approximately 7 million viewers Thursday night, down from 8.3 million last year for the opening round.
Rounds 2-3 also were held in prime time, following the lead of 2010 when they were there for the first time, and the combined ESPN/ESPN2 and NFL Network audience fell 28 percent from a year earlier — to 2.4 million viewers.
There were a couple extenuating circumstances this year. The draft faced competition from Steve Carrell's final appearance on NBC's popular "The Office" show, and there were no ratings from the Birmingham, Ala., market because of massive tornado-related power outages there.
Still, it was the second-biggest audience for the first round. And NFL Network set draft records both nights, but that was helped by it being in more homes now (just over 57 million) than last year, when it was in 56.5 million.
Viewership figures for the conclusion of the draft, on Saturday, were not immediately available.
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