ESPN opted to air special editions of NFL Live from the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis during its standard two-hour opinion block on Thursday and Friday, and move High Noon, Highly Questionable, Around the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption to ESPN2. In a vacuum where the goal would be to maximize ratings for ESPN's flagship network in that window, it is hard to frame this decision as anything other than highly unsuccessful. However, it is possible to consider other factors in Disney's relationship with the NFL and perhaps conclude that the potential ends justify the means.
On Thursday from 4-6pm ET, NFL Live averaged 241,000 viewers and on Friday it averaged 251,000 viewers. Here is what the opinion shows averaged on the previous three Thursdays and three Fridays in February (full data at bottom of page):
- High Noon - 298K on Thursdays, 292K on Fridays
- Highly Questionable - 347K on Thursdays, 350K on Fridays
- Around the Horn - 447K on Thursdays, 407K on Fridays
- Pardon the Interruption - 742K on Thursdays, 625K on Fridays
Therefore, the two-hour block averaged about 485,500 viewers on Thursdays and about 418,500 viewers on Fridays; this means that viewership of ESPN's NFL Scouting Combine coverage was down 50 percent on Thursday afternoon and 40 percent on Friday afternoon compared to how the opinion block overseen by Erik Rydholm performed on the corresponding weekdays earlier in the month.
There are some variables, like the fact that viewers flocked to CNBC and Fox Business Channel as their stock portfolios were ravaged last week by Coronavirus fears. However, it is pretty indisputable that ESPN viewers prefer the generalist opinion shows to the Combine (this is especially true of PTI, which averaged 406,000 viewers last Thursday and 400,000 viewers last Friday -- on ESPN2).
ESPN also aired a primetime special from the Combine at 7pm ET on Thursday; this program averaged 468,000 viewers, while Wisconsin-Michigan basketball averaged 791,000 viewers on ESPN2.
Given the broader play that ESPN/ABC/Disney are actively seeking more and better NFL games, perhaps you can conclude that it's worth sacrificing some viewership on the primary ESPN network on a couple of weekday afternoons. Nevertheless, for at least the time being, the Combine is a comparatively niche event, even as the public has a voracious appetite for the NFL Draft.
Via Showbuzz Daily, here are the viewership numbers for the ESPN opinion block on Thursdays and Fridays in February:
Friday 2/21 - High Noon - 288K, HQ - 323K, ATH - 371K, PTI - 587K
Friday 2/14 - High Noon - 260K, HQ - 342K, ATH - 404K, PTI - 616K
Friday 2/7 - High Noon - 327K, HQ - 384K, ATH - 447K, PTI - 671K
Thursday 2/20 - High Noon - 225K, HQ - 279K, ATH - 401K, PTI - 677K
Thursday 2/13 - High Noon - 287K, HQ - 315K, ATH - 392K, PTI - 648K
Thursday 2/6 - High Noon - 382K, HQ - 448K, ATH - 548K, PTI - 869K