Two days of the NFL Draft, fueled by lingering suspense over who would draft a controversial former Heisman Trophy winner and the league’s first openly gay recruit, proved more than enough to dominate the week’s Twitter TV audiences, according to Nielsen.
Twitter TV ratings measure the size of the online audience seeing tweets about specific shows during and for the three hours before and after the show. The top 10s for the week normally are split into one for sporting events, mostly dominated in recent weeks by the NBA playoffs, and one for everything else, usually topped by The Voice and other music reality competitions, Game of Thrones and WWE pro wrestling.
All those stalwarts continued to hold a place in their respective top 10s this past week, but nothing came close to the social-media power of the NFL, even for as seemingly prosaic an event its annual draft of college players by the league’s 32 teams. The draft has become an increasingly hot ratings attraction for the country’s most dominant sports league, even spawning Draft Day, a Lionsgate movie starring Kevin Costner that debuted last month. But even Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have anticipated the dramas that played out in this year’s draft and sparked tons of online interest as the show unfolded over several hours on each of first two days — starting with controversial and dynamic former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, “Johnny Football” to his fans but a problematic fit in the highly structured world of pro football. Projected to go as high as fifth overall, cameras repeatedly cut to Manziel as team after team chose someone else, before he eventually was chosen 22nd. In a mild bit of showbiz irony, Manziel was chosen by the same team portrayed in the Costner film, the Cleveland Browns.
The suspense continued through the second day and into the third, which is normally not that important to anyone but the recruits themselves. But Michael Sam, an overachieving and undersized defensive end from the University of Missouri, had come out publicly as gay two months before the draft, setting off endless sports-world speculation about where he might end up as the first openly gay NFL recruit. Although he had been voted the defensive player of the year in college football’s toughest conference, the SEC, Sam wasn’t expected to be drafted any sooner than the third round, because of his relative lack of size and speed. In fact, he wasn’t drafted until nearly the end, late in the seventh round, going to the practically hometown St. Louis Rams, 120 miles down the highway from his college. The historic nature of Sam’s being chosen (and the rather chaste on-camera kiss he gave his boyfriend after the announcement) set off another round of online conversations, from Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher to at least one disaffected NFL player, who was later fined by the league for his online gripes.
Meanwhile, the NBA completely dominated the sporting event top 10, topped by two second-round games between the Los Angeles Clippers and the highly regarded Oklahoma City Thunder (a third game between the closely matched teams also made the top 10). All of the NBA games outstripped all of the non-sports shows except the NFL Draft in the Twitter TV ratings. That said, both The Voice and newcomer reality show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta each put two shows in the week’s Top 10. The only other notable newcomer was Fox’s event series 24: Live Another Day. The show transformed TV when it came out in the early Oughts, leading to binge watching, DVD box sets and multiple-episode story arcs. But it far predated Twitter and other social-media sites. How Live Another Day thrives in the age of Twitter will be a fun thing to watch.