The Green Bay Packers delivered a statement victory on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints, nut the ratings for the marquee game offered mixed results for the NFL ratings.
Amid the 2020 presidential election and reactions to league-wide involvement for social justice, the NFL ratings have been one of the biggest stories early in the 2020 season. With future Hall of Famer quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees battling it out on NBC, the ratings for Sunday night’s broadcast provided mixed results.
NFL ratings: ‘Sunday Night Football’ dominates primetime stage, despite dip in viewership
Compared to its peers, the NFL continues to dominate against anything other television networks throw at it. After destroying Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Sept. 21, “Sunday Night Football” came through again in Week 3 of the NFL season with another solid showing.
According to Deadline.com, the Packers-Saints primetime game grabbed 14.43 million viewers with a 4.2 rating among adults between 18-49 on Sunday night. Even as the Miami Heat punched their ticket to the NBA Finals, a majority of sports fans were watching the NFL.
It’s a slight improvement upon Week 2, when the early numbers had 14.09 million viewers tuning in for the New England Patriots-Seattle Seahawks contest on NBC. The total later climbed to 17.69 million viewers and the Week 3 game should see its total viewership rise when the final numbers come in.
The NFL and NBC will gladly be happy with the bump in viewership and owning a night on television is extremely valuable, which will keep money coming in for everyone. However, the news isn’t all positive. Sunday night’s game still saw an 11% hit in viewership compared to the Week 3 primetime game in 2019 between the Seahawks and Cleveland Browns, per Deadline.com.
It is just the latest in the consistent trend we’ve seen this season. The NFL continues to own television every night it’s on, but it is also losing millions of viewers compared to a season ago.
NFL ratings taking a massive hit in 2020
On its own, the 2020 NFL season is doing quite well. When millions of fans are tuning in to watch NFL games, spending hours in front of their television, that means everything. However, the league is also dealing with an undeniable loss of viewers compared to 2019.
- The “Thursday Night Football” game to open Week 3 drew 5.43 million viewers, drawing the most eyes on television that night. But it also lost nearly one million viewers compared to the same game the previous season.
- When the NFL kicked off its 2020 season with the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, it experienced a massive ratings hit from the opener in 2019, with viewership dropping 16.1%
- Even the Dallas Cowboys, the most popular team in the NFL, couldn’t save the NFL. When “Sunday Night Football” kicked off Week 1, it lost millions of viewers versus its numbers from 2019.
- It was the same story for ESPN, who felt a ratings crash for the network’s “Monday Night Football” doubleheader in Week 1.
- The “Thursday Night Football” game in Week 2 also came with mixed results.
The NFL has found new ways to expand its audience along the way. In Week 2, the Saints-Las Vegas Raiders “Monday Night Football” game was broadcasted on both ABC and ESPN. As a result, viewership skyrocketed after only showing the game on ESPN in 2019. FOX also announced that its marquee game on Sunday afternoon enjoyed a sharp increase from a season ago.
In every case, the NFL game was the most-watched broadcast on television the night of its broadcast. It’s the bottom line that the league and networks can depend on, but millions of fans are still tuning out.
President Donald Trump goes after the NFL, national anthem protests
Everything changed for the NFL this summer. Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, unrest erupted across the United States. Athletes immediately began using their platform more than ever, calling out police brutality and demanding reform in the United States.
The NFL, after years of quietly pushing back against players who kneeled during the national anthem, responded to Floyd’s death. The statement immediately drew scrutiny from players and upon greater urging, commissioner Roger Goodell went further.
Goodell expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and admitted the league didn’t handle protests correctly. When athletes like LeBron James challenged him to apologize to Colin Kaepernick, he acknowledged the NFL should have listened to the former quarterback sooner and wished a team had signed him.
Trump responded almost immediately upon seeing the NFL’s revamped policy. The President of the United States said he would be happy if the NFL season didn’t happen, preventing players from protesting during the anthem. The comments came a month after he vowed to boycott the league for Goodell’s approach towards national anthem protests.
Despite facing pressure from Trump, the NFL has stood its ground. It even pledged $250 million to combat systemic racism across the country. With FOX reportedly willing to pay $2 billion per season and other networks lining up for similar deals to broadcast games in future seasons, the NFL recognized it had the biggest support it needed.
NFL ratings during the presidential election
Fans boycotting the NFL over its approach has likely played a part in the league’s ratings taking a hit. However, this same thing occurred in 2016 during the 2016 presidential election.
It’s a trend that is continuing this year, maybe even more so amid one of the most polarizing presidential elections in the history of the United States. The NFL has competed with NHL and NBA playoff games this fall and shined, but things will be more challenging later this year when Trump and Joe Biden participate in debates on the same night as “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts.
- October 15: Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
- October 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
One thing is for sure, this storyline isn’t going away soon. The NFL will likely continue to see a dip in ratings compared to the 2019 season, but they’ll be fine with it if it proves to be a one-year issue.
This report has been updated to include additional information.