Before the AFL looks to a night grand final as the solution to the massive drop in its grand final viewing audience, it should examine very closely the decline, albeit smaller, in the NRL grand final viewing audience.

The AFL will rightly be concerned at its worst grand final ratings since the present ratings system began in 2001, but as Glenn Dyer pointed out yesterday, the absence of the Swans saw the Sydney audience fall by well over 50%. The fact the game was one sided almost from the first bounce hardly helped.

The NRL grand final ratings can only be described as a disappointment. Last year’s grand final was between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm. This year the Manly Sea Eagles replaced the Broncos, and given that Sydney is overwhelmingly rugby league’s largest market area, the total numbers should have been significantly higher than last year.

But they were down by over 150,000 compared with 2006! Sydney was up by around 100,000 as you would expect – but the Melbourne figures (down 180,000) can only be described as troubling for the NRL. The failure of Nine to give the NRL, and the Storm, reasonable coverage in 2007 has rebounded badly, and so it should have!

What I detect is that viewer resistance to the night time grand final is starting to grow – even in rugby league strongholds like Brisbane. A recent survey by News Limited in both NSW and Queensland revealed that 75% of readers favoured a return to a day grand final

For the traditionalist, Sunday’s overall coverage by Nine was simply a rabble. Nine’s insistence of running the News at 6pm disjointed the pre-match entertainment, and meant viewers did not see some of the traditional highlights of grand final day, such as the farewell parade for retiring players.

The NRL CEO, David Gallop, says the night time grand final is under review. He might be reviewing it, but that will come to nothing unless Channel Nine agrees. And that is less than likely.

Of course the NRL grand final won the ratings in Sydney, Brisbane, and even Melbourne. So it should have. But the decline in audience numbers given the presence of a Sydney team, and a grand final between the two standout teams of the season, is not a vote of confidence in a night time grand final.

But what the ratings don’t show is the tens of thousands of fans, and even non-fans, who used to make the Sunday afternoon grand final an “event” – the backyard barbeque, the capacity crowd in the footy club auditorium – and who now just don’t bother.

The AFL has a problem with its grand final ratings. If it thinks – or its television rights holders think – the solution is a night time grand final, a close examination of the NRL ratings should encourage it to look elsewhere for the solution.