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.
- Sunday Night Football, Week 5: 15.08 million viewers for Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
- SNF, Week 4: 15.08 million viewers for Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers, 11.71 million early
- SNF, Week 3: 16.57 million for Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
- SNF, Week 2: 17.69 million viewers for New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks, steep decline from 2019
- SNF, Week 1: 18.94 million viewers for Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams, huge drop from 2019 SNF opener
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.
- In Week 1, the NFL Kickoff Game saw a dramatic decrease in viewership, with NBC suffering a staggering hit to its ratings.
- ESPN’s season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader went through a steep drop from its ratings for both games.
- Thursday Night Football, broadcasted exclusively on NFL Network for the first three games, took a dive in Week 2 and lost nearly 1 million viewers in Week 3.
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.
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.
President Donald Trump vs. NFL and national anthem protests
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.
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.
- Before the NFL Kickoff Game, the Houston Texans protested during the national anthem. The Texans and Kansas City Chiefs also took part in a moment of unity.
- The Minnesota Vikings hosted the family of George Floyd and the team donated $5 million to social justice causes.
- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended player protests, saying they “want America to be great.”
- Before the first “Monday Night Football” game in Week 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers held a banner in protest during the anthem.
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.