Thanks to the co-broadcast deal with Seven and Foxtel/Fox Sports, the AFL was the big winner from the first weekend of finals football in AFL and rugby league. Early data suggests the co-broadcast has boosted total audiences for some games by more than 30% compared with last year when Seven and Ten shared the broadcast rights. It is the first co-broadcast finals after the first co-broadcast home and away season.

It shows what rugby league missed (and what Foxtel and Fox Sports failed to strongly press for) in the recent new broadcast contract by not ending Nine’s three exclusive games and pushing for co-broadcasting with Fox Sports, which retrained its eight games. The NRL and the Commission have missed out on what looks to be a significant boost to audience numbers, judging by the AFL figures.

On top of the extra eyeballs, AFL games are longer, which are better suited to advertising. Now there are more people watching AFL games.

Friday night’s brutish clash that saw Hawthorn account for Collingwood was watched by a total of 1.860 million people across the country on Seven (main and digital channels, 1.455 million) and pay-TV (451,000). It easily eclipsed the 1.447 million people who watched Canterbury beat Manly in the first qualifying final of the NRL in Sydney on Nine (main and digital channels).

Saturday’s second qualifying final (an afternoon game) in which Sydney beat Adelaide was watched by 1.309 million people (975,000 million people on Seven’s main channel and 334,000 on pay-TV). The Geelong/Fremantle first elimination final was watched by 1.169 million people on Seven (main and digital) and 381,000 on pay-TV’s Fox Footy for a total of 1.550 million.

Saturday night’s second NRL qualifying finals on Nine (Melbourne beating South Sydney, a twilight early evening game) was watched by 1.311 million people on Nine and the first elimination final between North Queensland and the Brisbane side (won by North Queensland) was watched by 1.113 million, according to early data. (Some of the figures for the NRL games are clouded by poor coding data for the ratings in regional markets).

The last of the elimination finals saw the Canberra/Cronulla game win out with a total of 1.116 million viewers on Nine (main channels and digital) in metro and regional markets. The West Coast/North Melbourne game averaged 1.057 million viewers, with the pay-TV audience of 334,000 boosting the audience on Seven (main channels and digital, 723,000 in total) by close to half.

Saturday night’s Rugby Championship test between Australia and South Africa from Perth was a poor relation: its national audience was 547,000 people with 354,000 watching on Nine (it was delayed until after the second NRL final) and 193,000 on Fox Sports.