By Alan Pergament
How big a deal is the NFL draft in Western New York?
Let's put it this way: ESPN's coverage of Thursday's draft had a higher rating than any prime time series on the night except for "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS affiliate Channel 4.
Interest in whether the Buffalo Bills would draft a quarterback in the first round Thursday most likely led to a local ratings increase of almost 50 percent from last season's draft.
ESPN averaged a 10.7 rating Thursday in Buffalo for three and a half hours of coverage, up from a 7.3 rating last season. ESPN trounced The NFL Network coverage, which averaged a 1.5 rating here. That was only up from a 1.4 last year when The NFL Network wasn't on Time Warner Cable and was only carried by the satellite services.
"The Big Bang Theory" averaged a 13.1 rating from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Channel 4. CBS' "Person of Interest" was the only other prime time series to hit double-digits with a 10.2 on Channel 4 at 9 p.m.
ESPN's rating peaked at two different times here. It had a 15.8 rating at 9 p.m. when the Bills were expected to pick and instead traded down. And it had a 14.4 rating at 10 p.m. when the Bills selected Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel with their pick later in the first round.
To put the popularity of the draft in further perspective on the opening night of the May sweeps, Fox's "American Idol" had a 6.2 local rating, an original episode of ABC's popular "Grey's Anatomy" had a 5.0 rating, a 9 p.m. episode of NBC's '"The Office" had a 2.3 rating and NBC's "Hannibal" had a 2.1 rating at 10 p.m. Of course, many viewers know they can watch prime time series later on DVRs or On Demand, which makes the live NFL draft even more must-see TV.