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Why aren't American sports more popular in Australia?

How did AFL evolve?

How has class warfare shaped the NRL?

Why does rugby union have a private school boy image?

Does soccer suffer discrimination in Australia?

How have notions of identity been expressed in cricket?

Why does only one code play State of Origin?

Why are there 4 football codes in Australia?

What are some team names in Australia?

Australia's Battle of the Codes - Statistics

Average Football Crowds - 2005-2009


Table 1 shows the change in average attendance of Australia's four professional football leagues in the seasons commencing in the years 2005 to 2009. The figures show that all the codes are holding position without making significant movement forwards or backwards. Slight variances from year to year can be explained as stemming from weather variances, or success of the better supported teams.

The AFL average attendance is almost triple that of the A-league and double that of the NRL. The Super12/14's average attendance is higher than both the NRL and a-league; however it should be remembered that it does not supply as many games to fans. Concerning for Rugby Union is that out of all the codes, it is the only one that could be seen as having a trend in crowd figures and that the trend is backwards.

The lack of forward movement would be a concern for the A-league considering that one of its sales pitches is that it will become the dominant football code in Australia. If light is not seen at the end of the tunnel, soccer fans may jump off the band wagon as they Basketball fans did in the 90s when their big talk failed to come to fruition. .

The failure of the AFL to turn its revenue superority into a rising trend in attendance must be a cause for concern.


Football Crowds

Table 2

Table 2 shows the change in total attendance of Australia's four professional football leagues in the seasons commencing in the years 2005 to 2009. The figures show that all the codes are holding position without making significant movement forwards or backwards. The sharp drop in the A-league's 2009 figure stems from its season not being complete.

Each year, total attendance for the AFL is more than double the NRL, more than six times that of the A-league and more than 12 times that of the Super 14. The addition of a Gold Coast team in 2011 and a West Sydney team in 2012 should increase total attendance for the AFL but decrease average attendance.


Code popularity

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows the relative participation rates for a people over 14 in a variety of sports in the years 2003/04. The figures show that Soccer has the highest participation and Rugby Union the least. Because the spectator popularity does not match participant popularity, the results can be seen as a sign that people don't want to get hurt playing sport. Soccer is a relatively safe sport while union is relatively brutal. Australian Rules Football is somewhere in between, which explains its position between the two extremes.

In regards to the further prospects for the various codes, the low participation rate for Rugby Union is a concern because it relies upon a strong national team for its marketing. Low participation rates lowers the talent pool it can choose from.


State of Play in 2006

Revenue, Participation Rates and All-round assessment


Rugby League    Rugby Union      
Participation Rates
614,300 536,200 195,900 165,900
Revenue $ 60 m $208 m $107 m $ 70 m
Sweeney Sports Report 2006        50 % 54 % 42 % 40%

Figure 4 - Sources (with thanks to Stuart Pearson of Sydney Australia who is a rugby tragic.)

Participation rates: (2005 ERASS Report Australian Sports Commission)
All players over 15 years.- participation rates

Revenue: All figures from 2005 Annual Reports

Sweeney Sports Report 2006: combines participation, attendance,
television and radio audience as well as print readership in sport, and
is expressed as a percentage of the population

Figure 4 ranks Australia's football codes according to participation rates, revenue and the Sweeny Sports report in 2006. The figures show that AFL revenue was almost double NRL revenue and almost triple the revenue of rugby union and soccer.

Differences in revenue are particularly interesting because they indicate the relative resources available to the codes to spend on public relations, player development, recruitment and government lobbying. It should be remembered; however, that school popularity contests are not won by making friends with the teacher or the publisher of the school newspaper. Nor are they won by trying to buy friends with a great party. That said, having the resources to put on a great party is an asset.


Crowds for opening rounds of the A-League
Season Aggregate Avg per game
2009/10* 61501 12300
2008/09 53325 13331
2007/08 58214 14553
2006/07 62938 15741
2005/06 70206 17551


Attendance in its major competition - 2006





Percentage Change

(15-team Australasian competition)




(16-team National competition)




A-League Soccer
(8-team Australasian competition)


Est. 1,050,000

   52.2% (est.)

Super 14 Rugby
(14-team, 3 country provincial competition. Attendance at Australian home games only)





Global participation - 2006

Football Code

Number of Countries

Number of players


207 countries


 Rugby Union

129 countries



2 countries


 Aussie Rules

2 countries



5 countries



1 country


Sources (with thanks to Stuart Pearson of Sydney Australia who is a Rugby tragic.)


Source: Sport rules – OK? A study of media usage in 2005
By Roger Patching

Table 4: Sports by weeks in list and total number of stories.



Total number of stories


























Table 4 and Figure 2 (above) show the dominance of AFL in sports coverage in the nation’s media. It appeared in the “top 5” list for 26 of the 44 weeks, with a total number of mentions in excess of 322,000 – more than a third of sport’s 900,000-plus total. Cricket comes in second with mentions in 20 weeks (almost half) of the survey period, but with a total number of stories not much more than half that of the AFL….Rugby league is the third most-popular sport with the nation’s media, understandable since it is limited to the eastern mainland states.


Table 6: Sports categories by total number of mentions.


Mentions total

















The dominance of AFL is also demonstrated in the distribution of the mentions in the “top 5” News Value lists. Nearly 80 percent of their mentions were either top or second on the list – 19 of the 26. On the other hand about the same percentage of the rugby league mentions were in the lower 60 percent of the lists – That is, either third, fourth of fifth. Only on one occasion – coverage of the NRL Grand Final (and another fairytale result with the Wests Tigers taking out their first premiership as a combined club) did the NRL top the list of the most-mentioned stories of the week.

About two-thirds of the listings for cricket (13 of 20) were either as the top story of the week or the second most-mentioned, but only on three occasions was it the top story of the week. While the NRL might make the lists almost as many times as cricket, the sport is nowhere near as popular (as measured by the total number of mentions) as AFL – see table 6


Rugby Union Development

Number of Rugby players by state

State 2005 Registration 2006 Registration Change
ACT & Southern NSW

14,045 14,573 528 (3.8%)
New South Wales

74,274 78,088 3,814 (5.1%)

49,489 50,805 1,316 (2.7%)
Western Australia

8,518 14,471 5,953 (69.9%)

7,876 8,685 809 (10.3%)
Northern Territory

1,832 2,257 425 (23.2%)

1,027 3,383 2,356 (229.4%)
South Australia

2,479 4,108 1,629 (65.7%)

176,655 193,382 16,727 (9.5%)

(with thanks to Stuart Pearson of Sydney Australia who is a Rugby tragic.)

Super 14 crowds

NSW Waratahs

2006 average crowd - 29,929
2007 average crowd - 21,872 ( down 27 per cent.)

2007 "grudge match" between NSW and Queensland - 21,872

Queensland Reds

2006 average crowd - 23,154
2007 average crowds - 18,101 (down 21 per cent)

ACT Brumbies

2006 average crowd 21-22,000
2007 average crowd - 17,813 (down 22 per cent)

Western Force

2006 - 28,385
2007 - 27,000 ( down five per cent)


Rugby League Development

"The Australian Rugby League’s concerted effort to develop the game within Victoria has resulted in a 138.7% increase in total participation in the region (20,495 participants in 2006, up from 8,587 in 2005), while Victorian school registrations alone have risen 161%."

"The NSW Country region enjoyed similar success, with total participants in 2006 reaching 108,518, compared to 98,983 in 2005 – an increase of 9.6%."

"The Australian Rugby League’s schools program continues to flourish, with the total participation rate in schools nationally rising by 16.8%, while junior club registrations have also enjoyed a national growth rate of 3.6%."

"Significantly, an increase of 37% in total participation rates – i.e at junior and senior levels - within the ARL’s Affiliated States (Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia) has contributed to a national total participation rate rise of 11.2% (371,557 in 2006, up from 223,204 in 2005), and shown that more kids are experiencing Rugby League than ever before."

"Other figures of importance include the success of ARL Development’s Smaller Steps Program, which has resulted in 110,250 children participating in 22,874 clinics held in 2006, and a total of 190,649 taking part in Rugby League Gala Days such as the Legends of League competition and ARLD Cup.

Overall, a total of 874,258 kids received a rugby league experience of some capacity in 2006."

source: (Accessed 2006)

AFL - Revenue and Development

$215 million in annual revenue

3.94 million – average weekly television audience

5 year television deal worth $780million

5 year internet deal worth $60 million

3 year radio deal worth $8 million

Players in NSW - up 37 per cent

Players in Queensland - up 11 per cent

Source – 2006 Annual AFL report

AFL and NRL comparison

Television ratings - AFL vs NRL

2003 AFL - An average between 2.9 million and 5.3m viewers each weekend (five games a week)
2003 NRL - An average of 2.1m (two games a week)

Grand final ratings - NRL vs AFL

2006 - 903,000 -- NRL Grand Final audience in Melbourne
2006 - 765,000 -- AFL Grand Final audience in Sydney

Crowds- NRL vs AFL

AFL crowds 2006: 176 games for a total of 6,204,236 (average 35,251)
AFL Finals 2006: 9 games for a total of 532,178 (average 59,131)
NRL crowds 2006: 180 games for a total of 2,808,235 (average 15,601)
NRL Finals 2006: 9 games for a total of 307,466 (average 34,163)

Pay TV - Average week

From week ending June 11 2006

1 NRL Panthers V Dragons (FOX Sports 1) 158,000
2 NRL Cowboys V Sharks (FOX Sports 1) 145,000
3 NRL Rabbitohs V Brisbane (FOX Sports 1) 136,000
4 NRL Panthers V Sea Eagles (FOX Sports 1) 135,000
5 AFL RND 11 Richmond V Kangaroos (FOX Footy) 130,000
6 NRL Warriors V Broncos (FOX Sports 1) 117,000

Of the top 100 programs of all types on pay TV in 2006, 73 were Rugby League. The NRL had eight in the top 10.


Market worth

TV ad revenue for the 6 months to June 30 2007
New South Wales.................684,563,230
South Australia....................119,238,350
West Australia.....................156,194,242
Northern Territory / Tasmania...33,507,686


Activity 1- Battle of the Codes

  1. Do you notice any trends?
  2. Find up to date figures to identify any trends
  3. Is there a sign of any change in the status quo?
  4. If one code emerges to dominate all others, which one do you think it will be? Why?