Somebody wrote in The Age the other day that the AFL had the second-highest attendance of any domestic sports league in the world. I was sceptical (it was The Age after all), so I did a little digging and found this survey compiled by, which proved me correct.

The AFL indeed was NOT second.

It was third.

And that’s pretty remarkable when you consider the competition.

The best-attended domestic sports league in the world is — no surprise here — the National Football League, which averaged a massive 67,509 fans per game in 2009. Next up was the German Bundesliga, with a very healthy 42,499.

The AFL, with teams in just six or seven cities (is Geelong a city?), was not that far behind, with 37,790 fans per game.

That’s better than the English Premier League, which despite its worldwide marketing prowess, massive television audience, and globally famous clubs, finished in fourth place with an average of 34,158.

Major League Baseball was fifth, at 30,338, and was actually the leader in total attendance, pulling more than 73 million fans through the gates. Of course, each MLB team plays 162 games per season, most of any league in the world.

In sixth place, and probably a surprise to many reading this, is the Canadian Football League at 28,572 fans per game. Canadian football, for those unaware, is similar to American football, with slightly different rules, such as 12 players instead of 11 and three downs instead of four.

The top 10 is rounded out with Spain’s La Liga (28,474) , the Japanese pro baseball league (25,926), the Italian Serie A (25,282) and cricket’s Indian Premier League.

The IPL’s inclusion on this list is somewhat controversial, since methods for determining attendance at Indian grounds can be dubious. Cricket on the sub-continent dubious? Surely not.

The big winners

  • AFL: As most “foreigners” to AFL footy soon figure out, this is one of the most unique sporting situations in the world, with nine of 16 (soon to be 17) teams located in Melbourne. I’ve heard some say that the only thing similar is soccer in London, and while I get the comparison, it doesn’t do the AFL phenomenon justice. After all, London’s population is almost twice that of Melbourne, and at the moment, has only four teams competing at the highest level. Just FYI, only two London-based English Premier League clubs drew more fans per game for the 2009 season than the AFL average. Arsenal averaged 59,927 per game and Chelsea 41,422. The other two were Tottenham Hostpur (35,794) and Fulham (21,180).
  • Bundesliga: Long considered the “fourth” league, behind the EPL, La Liga and the Serie A, the Bundesliga is coming on strong, especially at the gate. Most clubs are following a strong financial model, unlike those in England, Spain and Italy, and many experts think the on-field product will close the gap as well.
  • NFL: Considering how bad the US economy has been, the NFL has been able to keep its attendance figures — and its TV ratings — strong and steady. There’s no doubt teams are hurting, but creative marketing and unique sponsorship deals have helped sustain elite levels.

Big losers

  • Serie A: Once considered the best football league in the world, the Serie A is still dealing with the fallout from match-fixing scandals and crowd violence.
  • NRL: The northern states’ version of footy doesn’t even make the cut here when it comes to attendance.
  • MLB: America’s “national pastime” is having a better 2010, but the statistics from 2009 show a drop of more than 2000 fans per game on average. The sport also continues to fall further behind the NFL in television ratings, media coverage and overall relevance.

*Back Page Lead is a sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.