Australian Football



AFL Membership Slogans 2013-2017

What do the clubs say they stand for?

Adelaide Crows
Flying away

Brisbane Lions
It's Alive!...Maybe

Carlton Blues
Swapping the silver spoons for the wooden spoons

Collingwood Magpies
Side-by-side in scandal

Essendon Bombers
The most hated of teams

Fremantle Dockers
Send in the clowns!

Geelong Cats
Good, even elite, until it really matters

Gold Coast Suns
Football or the beach? The beach it is!

Hawthorn Hawks
Not the coolest kid on the block

North Melbourne Kangaroos
From butchering shinbones to road kill

Melbourne Demons
Like Collingwood, they like white powder

Port Adelaide Power
Statistics matter and Port has 119 reasons not to forget history

Richmond Tigers
From eat'em alive to eat our own alive.

St Kilda Saints
Can't ever say Saints' fans are band wagoners

Sydney Swans
Blood is thicker than water

West Coast Eagles
The AFL equivalent of McDonalds

Western Bulldogs
On welfare and on the move

GWS Giants
A marketing disaster on a par with AFLX




Battle of Sydney 1804

Battle of the Football Codes

Most of the world has a singular code of football dominating with a secondary code acting as an alternative for the rebels. For much of the world, it is soccer with union a distant second. Australia is different in that there are four football codes eyeing off national supremacy.

The existence of four codes looking for national supremacy can be attributed to Australia’s tyranny of distance making a national competition an impossibility until the 70s and 80s when commercial flight became more economic. Within individual cities, however, the model of one dominant code rang true. In Sydney and Brisbane, rugby league dominated with rugby union coming a distant second. Neither soccer nor Australian football had a meaningful spectator presence. In WA, SA, Tasmania and Victoria, Australia football dominated. There was no commercial presence by the other codes although soccer has always had large playing numbers.

It was only in the 1980s that a national market started replacing city based markets that the four codes found themselves in competition. Not only did the national market bring Australian football and rugby league into conflict, but they opened up opportunities for rugby union and soccer to become professional which didn't exist previously. Nevertheless, the same forces that once led to each Australian city only having one main code can be expected to work on a national level in the forthcoming years.

Firstly, fans only have the economic and emotional resources to support one team passionately. If the passion rises, it is just too difficult to follow a variety of codes equally. Secondly, only one code can fill the back page on a newspaper. This position will always go to the strongest code, and so further strengthen its dominant position. Thirdly, the dominant code benefits from being the code of choice for people who want to have a conversation. Football can't serve its role as a conversation starter if every individual follows a different code. To be involved in the conversation, individuals will have to take an interest in the dominant code, thereby strengthening it again. Finally, whichever code raises the most money will subsequently have the most money to reinvest in promotion, development and government lobbying- thereby increasing its dominant position.

Even if fans wanted to follow all codes, the administration of football codes have never guided by a love of pluralism. Each code has wanted to increase its market share and destroy the competition. Former NRL chief executive David Gallop was honest enough to give his opinion on the type of fan his organisation tries to shape when he said,

" We expect these days a lot of people are going to sample all the codes, but the people we love are the people who don't go to anything else but rugby league, become season ticket-holders, talk about it over the water cooler every day and come up to you in the summer and say, 'Can't wait for the footy to start'."

Expecting the administrators to be happy with co-existence is like expecting a football team to take the field and be happy with a draw.

With these forces in mind, two of Australia's football codes will probably not have a meaningful national competition within a decade. Soccer and rugby union are the most likely to fall.

The rise and inevitable fall of rugby union

Rugby union was the first code in Australia’s first state but it is also likely to be the first code to fall. The first rugby club formed in Australia was the Sydney University Club in 1864. In 1874 a Sydney metropolitan competition was established with the new league being administered from Twickenham, England. The new league suffered a blow in 1877 when the powerful 'Waratah' Rugby Club invited Carlton (an Aussie rules club) to play two matches, one each under union and Australian rules. For many Sydney football fans, union was slow and unattractive and the Waratah club hoped to make the point in a direct comparison with the Australian game.

A week later over 100 footballers formed the New South Wales Football Association (NSWFA) to play the Australian game. For the next three decades, the two codes battled for the hearts and minds of Sydney siders. Union used its influence in the corridors of power to have Australian football banned from Sydney's enclosed grounds. As a consequence, Australian football was unable to raise money to pay players or promote the code.

As an amateur sport, union would have eventually lost to Australian football had rugby league not arrived in 1908 to act as a circuit breaker. The drift of union players to Australian football became a drift to rugby league. Union became confined to the private schools, which were attracted by its English image and well-mannered players that played for love instead of money.

Despite losing the fight against both Australian football and rugby league, as an amateur sport, rugby union was immune from destruction. Union players were lawyers, doctors and accountants who could make more money in their professions than they ever could if the defected to league. For them, the joy of union was to be able to travel the world and represent their country. For union, it didn't matter that it didn't have crowds because they didn't have huge overheads to maintain.

In the 1980s, rugby league started going more mainstream by targeting more white-collar supporters. With its market being encroached upon, rugby union responded with moves towards professionalism. In 1987, the first rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand. By the early 90s, the code was experiencing such a surge in popularity that it started breaking free of its white-collar following.

With a common market being pursued, tensions between the two rugby codes increased and each started plotting the demise of the other. League offered salary cap incentives to any club buying union players. Because the money on offer was more than a white-collar job, union players were far more tempted by league money than their predecessors had been.

When Super League was launched in 1995, rugby union faced destruction. With rugby league paying a fortune to anyone who could pass or tackle, the entire Wallaby and All Black teams threatened to defect. To provide a professional league, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia hastily organised the Super 12 and Tri Nations. A new force in the Australian professional sports market had emerged.

Without the shackles of a popular club competition to weigh them down, all of rugby union's resources were directed towards the success of the Wallabies. Thus Australia, where union ran a distant last in terms of playing numbers, became a powerhouse of world rugby. In less than two decades, it won two World Cups, and narrowly missed out on a third.

The success of the Wallabies allowed union to gain a following in Australian markets that had no history of support for the code. Testament to the value of a national team was the 2003 World Cup final between England and Australia, which attracted a national audience of 4.01million.

As well as making spectacular commercial strides, union also made significant progress at the junior level. Since turning professional in 1996, the number of people playing union in Australia has more than doubled. In 1996, 89,760 people played union in Australia. In 2006, the number was 193,382. With the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Sports Commission estimating that League only has 180,000-190,000 players, union was more popular from a playing point of view.

Unfortunately for the code, the internationalism that allowed it to go professional would also prove to be its biggest weakness. Super rugby just crossed too many time zones to make it possible for fans to follow their teams week in week out. In addition, it made it too difficult to learn about the enemy teams that need to be hatred to make the competition more enjoyable. There is a good reason why home and away trans-national sporting competitions do not exist around the world (with the possible exception of Canada and the USA that share time zones).

The struggles of union were perhaps best reflected in the crowds of the ACT Brumbies. In 2004, they had an average home crowd of around 21,000 and 28,750 watched their home final. In 2019, average attendance at dropped to by almost two thirds to 8,332. Only 11,112 turned up to their home final. Admittedly, super rugby is largely funded by pay TV rather than crowds but in 2019, ratings for super rugby in Australia fell below the A-league with an average audience of only 71,000 in Australia. It was about a third of the audience for NRL and AFL. Overseas matches involving Australia teams averaged only 23,000 viewers per match. The figures were particularly bad considering that, unlike the NRL and AFL, there is not a free to air option to watch Super rugby.

Pay TV is itself an industry under threat from internet streaming services. Super rugby is currently funded until 2025. After that, Australia’s time within it may well be at an end. The competition itself may struggle to survive without Australia. Without a national league to fall back on, rugby union would return to the private schools and suburbs.

The only way that union could survive as a dominant code would be if rugby league will adopted rugby union rules. Given its union's weakness in Australia, this will not happen.

The rise and likely fall of soccer

Soccer created Australia’s first national league and today, has the only truly national league out of any of the football codes. Via the national team, it also offers the greatest opportunity to proudly wave the Australian flag. Despite this, it arguably makes the least use of patriotic marketing out of all the codes. The culture of hostility to Australia could be seen soccer legend Johnny Warren's, titling his biography, “Sheila’s, Wogs and Poofters.”

Identity has always been problematic for soccer. In Australia, there was a desire to also have a uniquely Australia code that symbolised Australian culture, and this drove some of the early demand for Australian football. This demand; however, was countered by an arguably stronger demand to express a British identity by playing the football codes of the mother country (rugby union and soccer.) Ironically, soccer's global appeal weakened its English image, which perhaps also weakened its appeal in Australia. In other words, it was neither English or Australian enough to be attractive

After World War 2, identity had a huge impact upon attempts to revive soccer. A massive immigration intake from mainland Europe brought large numbers of migrants who had a love of soccer, but they didn’t associate soccer with England. Much like previous generations of British migrants, however, they did associate soccer with their motherland and many wanted to play soccer as a reminder of their homeland.

In 1977, migrants established the National Soccer League to remind them of their home countries. This was the first national football league in Australia. Potentially, it may have been able to use national symbolism to climb up the pecking order; however, racism ultimately led to its failure. Instead of the clubs being named after ideals that all Australians could identify with, they were named after European concepts such as "Sydney Croatia" and "Marconi” that excluded others and led to racial conflicts.

Aside from alienating mainstream Australia, the racial identities also made it very difficult for soccer's administration to co-operate as a unit. Board meetings were characterised by racist comments, support for own ethnic groups, and threats of violence. In the absence of productive decision-making, soccer went bankrupt.

A change of direction came in 2003 the federal government was asked to finance a restructuring of a new league without racial associations. In 2005, the A-League came into existence.

Most of the marketing of the A-league was based around hype. Firstly, it was hyped around the idea that soccer is the "world game." The second was that the A-league will become Australia's national sport. For example, in 2008 on Total Football, A-league commentator Robbie Slater said,

"This is not taking a pop at the other codes but I think they are going to struggle to find players in 10 years time because every kid in Australia will be playing soccer."

Slater's prophecy proved false with hype giving away to reality. In 2017/18, average attendance hovered around 10,000 for most clubs. Pay TV audiences also slumped from a high of over 74,000 in 2012-13 to only 51,000 in 2017/18. Again, with pay TV itself being an industry under threat, such low figures are not enough to warrant a deal necessary for the A-league to survive on a national level.



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 in 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 downwards.

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 but perhaps like seeing other people 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%

Table 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

Table 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










Brisbane Broncos

Canberra Raiders

Canterbury Bulldogs

Cronulla Sharks

Gold Coast Titans

Manly Sea Eagles

Melbourne Storm

Newcastle Knights

Nth Queensland Cowboys

New Zealand Warriors

Parramatta Eels

Penrith Panthers

South Sydney Rabbitohs

St George Dragons

Sydney City Roosters

Wests Tigers



Team names for Australian sports clubs

The mystery of AFL's invention

Why does Australia have two codes of rugby?

Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?

Why aren't American sports more popular in Australia?