San Francisco 49ers QB Jimym Garoppolo on Sunday Night Football in NFL Week 6
October 18, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) passes the football against the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL ratings have been one of the biggest stories of the 2020 season and that continued once again on Sunday Night Football, with a primetime clash between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers experiencing a slide.

On a night when SNF competed with Game 7 of MLB’s National League Championship Series, featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, the NFL once again found itself losing viewers from its marquee game.

Ratings slide for Rams and 49ers Sunday Night Football game in Week 6

According to Deadline.com, NBC saw 9.43 million viewers watch its primetime game between the 49ers and Rams and received a 2.8 rating in the 18-49 demographic. It’s a significant step down from Week 5, when 11.4 million people watched the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.

Notably, the viewership numbers will be higher when the official numbers come in Monday night. Data from the West Coast comes in later and that’s particularly noteworthy given the 49ers and Rams are both based in California. However, the NFL likely saw a dip in its normal viewership from Los Angeles because of the Dodgers.

It matches a recurring trend we’ve seen for much of the NFL season, with NBC largely being impacted the most by it. Despite SNF being the most-watched programming each week since the season began, it’s not putting up the numbers it held in 2019.

Sunday Night Football ratings

While CBS and FOX have enjoyed strong viewership in recent weeks, NBC still isn’t pulling in the size of audience it is accustomed to holding. Coming into Week 6, SNF had a steady decline in viewership.

For comparison, per Sports Media Watch, eight SNF games in 2019 had 20-plus million viewers watching. Furthermore, there were just two SNF broadcasts that finished with less than 17 million viewers.

NBC’s most important broadcast each year has fallen short of its numbers from last year, but it remains the most-watched program every Sunday Night and it hasn’t been particularly close. Fortunately for the NFL and other networks, there have been some positive from its ratings.

NFL ratings for 2020 season

Overall, NFL ratings throughout the 2020 season have remained impressive. Even on nights when viewership is down compared to the previous season, the NFL dominates over other programming. Additionally, we’ve seen some especially strong numbers from a few games.

  • 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.
  • In Week 5, the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys game on CBS drew 22.87 million viewers.
  • In Week 3, nearly 23 million watched the Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks matchup for FOX’s afternoon broadcast.
  • Changes to the NFL schedule have boosted ratings for CBS

Of course, it hasn’t always been pretty for the NFL with plenty of examples where fewer fans are watching games in primetime slots.

Despite some of the downs, networks don’t have much to complain about and advertisers are happy. In fact, with contracts with the NFL set to expire in 2022, work is already being done to negotiate new deals.

FOX is discussing a new record-breaking offer for expanded broadcasting rights for future seasons. Meanwhile, ESPN may bid for the opportunity 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. In fact, the NFL could draw $8-10 billion annually in tv revenue alone by 2022.

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Will the World Series schedule influence NFL viewership?

Fortunately for the NFL, it won’t have to go head-to-head too often with the World Series this year. It’s important, even in a year where MLB ratings have dipped. Fortunately for both sports leagues, they should each have their own times to shine for most of October.

  • Game 1 of World Series: Tuesday, 8:09 PM EST
  • Game 2 of World Series: Wednesday, 8:08 PM EST
  • Game 3 of World Series: Friday, 8:08 PM EST
  • Game 4 of World Series: Saturday, 8:08 PM EST
  • Game 5 of World Series*: Sunday, 8:08 PM EST
  • Game 6 of World Series*: Tuesday, 8:08 PM EST
  • Game 7 of World Series*: Wednesday, 8:08 PM EST

While it’s possible the Dodgers or Rays could win the World Series in a sweep, this one will likely extend to six or seven games. As a result, the NFL will likely compete with MLB for viewership next Sunday, when Game 5 of the World Series will compete against the Las Vegas Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday Night Football game.

NFL Week 7: Schedule and game-by-game predictions

President Donald Trump vs. NFL and national anthem protests

President Donald Trump at podium
Apr 19, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; President Donald Trump (M) holds a team jersey as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (R) and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (L) look on at a ceremony honoring the Super Bowl LI champion New England Patriots on the South Lawn at the White House. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Both on Twitter and during campaigns, President Donald Trump has used his platform to go after the NFL. Unsurprisingly, the focus has centered on the league’s growing support of its players who kneel during the national anthem.

Related: NFL pushes back against President Trump 

After seeing countless players react with outrage to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reversed course after years of silence. With players demanding the NFL offer its support, while also calling for reform to address police brutality, systemic issues in the criminal justice system and racial inequalities in the United States.

Goodell expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, while admitting he didn’t handle the players’ demonstration correctly in 2016. In regards to Colin Kaepernick, with athletes like LeBron James wanting a direct apology, Goodell acknowledged the NFL should have listened to Kaepernick’s message. 

The league itself also took action. It pledged $250 million to combat systemic racism and we saw league-wide protests in Week 1, which have continued ever since.

While the NFL might have lost some viewers due to its new approach on social justice, the league is still doing very well. Given the league is going head-to-head with the 2020 presidential election and competed with the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Playoffs and now the World Series, the NFL will likely that the ratings it has. Once this year is behind us, don’t be surprised if viewership soars back to its 2019 levels next season.

Matt Johnson
NFL, MLB & college football writer for Sportsnaut. Graduated from San Diego State University with BA in Journalism, 2019. Grew up in Sacramento, now based in Indianapolis. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection, With the First Pick