CHICAGO (CBS) — A drop in ratings for the NFL draft this year is leaving some commentators wondering whether the ongoing lockout could affect the league’s overall popularity.

In a published report Monday morning, USAToday sports television columnist Michael Hiestand said the average audience for the NFL Draft on ESPN this year was down 17 percent from last year on Thursday, 29 percent on Friday, and 11 percent on Saturday.

On the NFL Network, this was the second-most watched draft ever, but still down 7 percent, Hiestand reported.

While strong competition elsewhere on television and what the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock calls a “very poor draft” may be blamed for the lower ratings, Hiestand calls the lower ratings “early evidence of what could happen to fan interest” stemming from the lockout.

As of now, the lockout is back in force after a short hiatus last week. A St. Louis appeals court could determine as early as later Monday whether the league deserves a permanent stay of an injunction granted to the players in Minnesota to block the lockout.

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