Total viewership of the first round of the draft on ESPN and NFL Network totaled a combined 20 million viewers, according to The Nielsen Company, making it the most-watched cable show of the night. The combined average for ESPN and NFL Network was 7.7 million, almost doubling the History Channel's "Swamp People" (4 million viewers), the next-most watched cable program on that Thursday. Read more on the NFL's Media Blitz

2013 NFL DraftHow the 2013 NFL Draft made it to Primetime
The legend goes that when a fledgling ESPN asked NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to televise the 1980 NFL Draft, even the PR-savvy Mr. Rozelle doubted anybody would tune in.   

Fast-forward 33 years and John Brody, senior VP-sponsorship and sales  for the NFL, expected 50 million viewers to watch the three-day event  across ESPN, NFL Network and NFL Mobile last Thursday through Saturday  nights.

Among league sponsors and advertisers, the NFL Draft is now viewed as a 
"tentpole event" where they can directly connect their brands to the  country's
most-popular sports league, Mr. Brody said. A confirmed 19  sponsors activated
around this year's event at Radio City Music Hall vs. 16 in 2012. Among them:
Anheuser-Busch; Nike; Verizon; Pepsi; GMC; Visa; EA Sports; Under Armour;
Gatorade; and Castrol.   

Despite the recession, ad support is growing for the NFL Draft, which  now
competes with entertainment and reality shows in the heart of prime  time.
Advertisers spent roughly $15 million across ESPN and NFL Network  in 2012 vs.
$11.9 million in 2011, according to Kantar Media.   

Current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moved Round 1 to Thursday nights  in
2010 from its longtime perch on Saturdays. The gamble paid off:  ESPN's Round 1
coverage last year averaged 6.7 million viewers and a 4.4 rating vs. 5.1 million
viewers and a 3.4 rating in 2009.  

"To the credit of the NFL, it's the most robust league," said Ernest 
, founder of branding consultancy Ernest Industries
"They announced the [2013 regular season] schedule and people went  crazy.
It was as if they let us know they were bringing the McRib  sandwich back."  

"Our sponsors crave more access and more connection to the game the same way
the fans do," according to Mr. Brody. "Our partners are enablers:  They're the
ones who connect the sport to the fans."  

Here's how sponsors such as Verizon, A-B and Nike integrated their brands
into the festivities:   
  • Verizon was the presenting sponsor of Round 3. The company hosted
    a "Draft Eve" party Wednesday, where its executives and customers
    mingled  with top draft picks and NFL starts. 
  • Bud Light signed on to sponsor Round 2 Friday night as well as sponsor 
    ESPN's coverage. Bud Light's promotion offered to fly 32 NFL fans to  New York
    (one representing each team's fan base) and give them a VIP  experience that
    included a dinner reception with 32 NFL alumni, along  with green-room access at
    Radio City.  
  • Nike, which took over as the NFL's official outfitter last season from
    Reebok, provided top prospects with No. 1 Nike jerseys. Similarly, the  league's
    official cap, New Era, handed out special "Draft Caps" to  prospects onstage.
    That's prime product placement when prospects  ascended the stage for the
    traditional handshake and hug with Mr.   Goodell.  

By:   Michael McCarthy