One thing is certain from the weekend grand finals for the AFL and NRL: rugby league has a much stronger following in Melbourne than the AFL has in Sydney, despite the Swans’ winning ways since 2005.

The Melbourne Storm’s win last night was watched by a record 751,000 in Melbourne (two third the 957,000 who watched in Sydney, the heartland of the game). In contrast, 609,000 watched the Swans win in Melbourne (the record for Sydney was back in 2005 for the win over West Coast when 991,000 watched).

The presentations last night saw the Melbourne audience jump to a huge 960,000, against 740,000 for the AFL presentations on Saturday. Sydney hated the Storm win; not only did the audience for the game fail to top 1 million viewers (957,000), but the audience for the presentation fell 159,000 to 798,000. In fact the Melbourne audience for the presentations topped the Sydney audience, the first time that has happened for any part of a game or coverage in the history of rugby league in this country.

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The $100 million or more the AFL claims to have ready to spend on promoting greater Western Sydney in Sydney might very well be the biggest waste of money in Australian sport if a team in its third grand final in seven years can’t get to the previous record TV audience. The NRL, Nine and News Limited (which owns the Storm) have had to ride the salary cap cheating scandal with the Storm and a seemingly indifferent media at times and public. Nine in fact has not helped a lot by burying Storm games in the dead of Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Despite that atrocious treatment,  the GF last night managed to pull in a huge audience down south. The audience easily beat those for Origin games.

Brisbane, the other NRL heartland market, could only manage 564,000 viewers, which was OK seeing there wasn’t a Queensland team in the game and audiences in the northern state are notoriously parochial. Unlike Sydney, there was a small turn on of 4000 viewers for the presentation. Having three key Queensland Origin players no doubt helped up north.

Nationally, the AFL still out-rated the NRL, despite the big audience in Melbourne. The AFL GF had 4.053 million people watching the game on Saturday in all markets, metro and regional, against the 3.680 million that watched the NRL game. More than 1.36 million people watched the NRL game in regional markets, especially in Queensland and NSW against 1.022 million for the AFL grand final (which was dominated by regional Victoria).

The AFL audience for Melbourne was 1.331 million people. The AFL audience was the third largest recorded, behind the 4.444 million and 4.140 million for the 2005 and 2006 games, which both included the Swans and West Coast. In other words, the Swans have featured in the three top-rated AFL grand finals, not Collingwood, Carlton or any Melbourne club.

The NRL audience of 3.680 million was up on the 3.332 million who watched the game last year won by Manly over the Auckland Warriors (that game had a huge NZ audience of 692,000 viewers overall).The 2009 game “won” by the Storm was watched by 3.319 million viewers in metro and regional markets.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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