I’m no fan of the AFL, or the NRL for that matter, but both codes have this charming knack of ignoring the obvious and praising the irrelevant. In the AFL’s case it’s the determination to set up new teams in western Sydney and on the Gold Coast by the 2012 season so as to maximise their gains from the broadcast contract due to start that year.  It’s another example of a sporting body that is ignoring the strength of the opposition in both markets and what is happening in the wider economy. But the AFL is more realistic about TV audiences and a far better judge than the NRL and its boosters. Take this story from today’s Sydney Morning Herald

“Sunday’s afternoon grand final has been declared a resounding success, with more Sydney viewers tuning in than last year and broadcaster Channel Nine trumpeting a national ratings win.

“After a strong public campaign, backed by the Herald, to return the premiership decider to its traditional 3pm timeslot, the NRL and Nine compromised on a 5pm kick-off amid predictions that fewer people would watch the biggest match of the season.

“But ratings figures released yesterday indicated that the television audience in Sydney was bigger than last year, with Manly’s record 40-0 demolition of the Storm attracting an average of 942,000 viewers – up from the 935,000 who watched the same two teams in last year’s grand final. The premiership decider was watched by a peak national audience of 2,465,000, with Nine’s coverage averaging 2,074,000 viewers across the five mainland cities.

“Despite being down by about 400,000 viewers on both last year’s peak (2.86m) and average (2.48m) audiences, regional ratings figures released today are expected to show that the NRL grand final was watched by more people across Australia than the previous week’s AFL decider.”

Well, the regional figures were out yesterday: just over 958,000 people watched the game in the bush and other nether regions, which gave an average audience for the game of a fraction over 3 million.

Seeing the AFL Grand Final averaged 3.273 million people nationally and 2.490 million in the five metro markets, that makes it a ‘no-brainer’: more people watched the AFL in the five city metro markets and more people watched the NRL grand final in regional areas. That’s because League is stronger in regional areas of NSW and Queensland, the two biggest regional markets in the country.

And yes, the Sydney audience was higher this year at 942,000, compared with last year, 937,000. But that’s a whole 5,000 more. Would you really make a decision about next year’s grand final kick off based on the fact that an extra 5,000 people tuned in to watch this year in Sydney?

Of would you look at the total audience in the five metro markets and base your decision on the fact that over 400,000 fewer people tuned in?

The peak audience figures don’t matter for the TV network’s: they are for bragging rights, it’s the average that counts and then the break up up the demos.

Both the AFL and NRL Grand Finals were down on 2007 and that’s the real message. Support for both games in TV viewing terms was lower through the whole season this year compared with 2007.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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