NEW YORK The NFL is making its already popular draft even more television-friendly, moving the first round to Thursday night.
Next year's draft will switch from a two-day, weekend format to a three-day event with the opening round in prime time for the first time.
The NFL said Thursday that the first round will begin at 7:30 p.m. EDT on April 22. The second and third rounds will start at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, with the last four rounds beginning Saturday morning.
"Moving the first round to prime time on Thursday night will make the first round of the draft available to fans on what is typically the most-watched night of television," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a release.
The draft will continue to be televised by ESPN and NFL Network and held at Radio City Music Hall.
Over the years, it has evolved from a mostly unnoticed affair to a major TV event. The draft took place on Saturday-Sunday from 1995-2009 and Sunday-Monday from 1988-94. Before that, it was held on one or two weekdays.
A total of 39 million viewers watched the draft this year.
The NFL said the first round lasted just under 3½ hours in 2009, which would fit in neatly into a prime-time slot.