The NFL ratings have been one of the biggest stories in sports this fall and the dip in viewership continued for NBC’s Sunday Night Football in Week 4 with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers game taking a hit.

A week after the Sunday Night Football clash between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints drew nearly 15 million viewers, still a sizable drop from the 2019 season, the NFL drew even fewer viewers on Sunday night.

NFL ratings: Eagles-49ers Sunday Night Football game dominates NBA Finals, viewership drops from Week 3

After a great matchup in Week 3, the NFL ran into some trouble for its SNF matchup. Not only did it compete against Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, but NBC also broadcasted a game between a struggling Eagles’ offense and the injury-plagued 49ers.

According to Deadline.com, the Week 4 SNF game drew 11.71 million viewers and had a 3.5 rating among the 18-49 demographic from the early numbers. While the final totals will likely be announced later on Monday, it is already a dip compared to the early numbers from the Week 3 SNF battle.

The Packers-Saints primetime game drew 14.43 million viewers with a 4.2 rating in the same audience demographic. It marked an improvement from Week 2, when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks had 14.09 million viewers. It’s a massive difference compared to 2019, when the Week 3 SNF game between the Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys drew an astounding 24 million viewers with a 13.7 rating.

While NBC took a hit from its last SNF broadcast, it still dominated the night and ebat out 60 Minutes (11.23 million). ABC’s telecast of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which drew just 4.08 million viewers with a 1.5 rating. With the Lakers leading the series 2-0, many fans seemingly tuned out.

Just a few days after the Thursday Night Football ratings for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets game, it’s clear a familiar outcome is emerging for the NFL this season.

NFL viewership during the 2020 season

Across sports, television ratings have been down during the COVID-19 pandemic. MLB has struggled to draw an audience during its postseason, the NHL had the least-watched Stanley Cup in over a decade and the ratings for the NBA Playoffs plummeted. When the NFL season began, it was evident that viewership would dip this season.

It is evident that the NFL is losing a significant chunk of its audience this year, but it is still standing strong as the dominant force on television every day there is an NFL game. In fact, no other sport or broadcast is really coming even close to matching football’s prowess.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens thriller on Monday Night Football in Week 3 was ratings gold for ESPN, enjoying a 32% increase from the Week 3 MNF broadcast in 2019.
  • Coming into Week 4, the NFL had the 15 highest-rated shows through the first three weeks of the season. Even with some numbers down, ESPN, NFLN, NBC, FOX and CBS were all benefitting from football’s return.

Owning a night or afternoon on television is everything for major networks and advertisers. It’s why the NFL could $8-10 billion annually by 2022 when new broadcasting contracts kick in.

As of now, FOX is already offering a new record-breaking offer for expanded broadcasting rights to games in future seasons. On top of that, ESPN could bid for the chance to broadcast future Super Bowls. With the NFL’s contracts with every major network set to expire soon and a renewal with Amazon for the streaming rights to TNF finished, money is coming.

The NFL will come out of this feeling good, especially in comparison to other leagues. However, it is still losing millions of viewers and there are a few causes for that.

President Donald Trump vs. the NFL and national anthem protests

The killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked outrage across the United States and struck a chord with the NFL community. Players started using their platform like never before to talk about systemic inequality, police brutality and other issues in the country. As their voices grew louder and more unified, the NFL and President Donald Trump took notice.

Roger Goodell offered public support for the Black Lives Matter movement and admitted he didn’t handle the players’ demonstration correctly in 2016. In regards to Colin Kaepernick, with athletes like LeBron James seeking an apology, Goodell acknowledged the NFL should have listened. The NFL took its own action, pledging $250 million to combat systemic racism and  league-wide protests began in Week 1.

President Trump noticed and reacted. Before calling the NFL “boring” during a rally in September, he vowed to boycott the league and shared that he would be very happy if the 2020 season didn’t happen. After being accused of caving to Trump in 2016, the NFL planned to stand up against him in 2020. 

Thus far, the NFL has stuck by its players and the demonstrations have continued. Across the country, nearly every team has either protested before a game, donated to create specific changes in the United Stated or offered words of support for those taking action.

All of this has led up to the 2020 presidential election, with the NFL community calling on fans to get involved and vote. While the NFL is now taking an active role in voting rights, the election might also be partially responsible for the NFL’s ratings dip.

2020 election vs. NFL games

The NFL saw its ratings take a hit during the 2016 election cycle, with games competing against the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With Trump and Joe Biden now in a heated race, the same story is unfolding in 2020.

While no SNF or MNF games will go head-to-head with a major election broadcast, it’s a different story for Thursday Night Football. Assuming Trump is cleared to return to the debate stage after contracting COVID-10, two debates will compete directly with games and that will likely come with an even bigger hit to the NFL ratings.

  • October 15: Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
  • October 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles

With a new CBA signed and record-breaking television contracts on the horizon, the NFL will survive the looming financial hit this year. Once the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election is behind them, the NFL should return to staggering profits.

Matt Johnson
Writer at Sportsnaut. Journalism student at San Diego State University. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection