The AFL Footy Show Sam Newman

Last night’s Battle of the Footy Shows was fought on three fronts. In Melbourne, it was between Nine’s AFL Footy Show and Seven’s The Front Bar; nationally, it was between the same two programs; and in Brisbane, Queensland, NSW and Sydney, it was between the NRL Footy Show and The Bachelor on Ten.

So who came out on top? It was a win in Melbourne for Nine and Eddie, and a small loss nationally. The NRL program, however, suffered a nasty loss in viewers — even though the popular Sydney Roosters are in the final this week alongside last year’s premiers Melbourne Storm. Seven won the NRL markets in Sydney and Brisbane, while Nine was a narrow winner in Melbourne, but lost the other metro AFL markets in Adelaide and Perth to Seven. Was the win a tribute to the departing dinosaur, Sam Newman?

In Melbourne, Nine’s AFL Footy Show pulled in 247,000 viewers with The Front Bar averaging 229,000. This is the first win by Nine’s show for months, and comes after an emotional statement from Newman on last week’s episode. Amid speculation the show would be cancelled, the controversial long-time panelist said he was “[ending his] association with this show and the network on the off-chance that this is the final show that we do”. 

Nine pulled out all the stops with their annual grand final extravaganza. Last night’s AFL show featured performances from Carrie Underwood, Vance Joy and The Living End, as well as a number of special guests in front of a stadium audience at Rod Laver Arena. Host Eddie McGuire also played a package of Newman’s most memorable moments over the past 25 years.

While this won out against The Front Bar‘s comparatively low-key coverage, both grand final shows were down on viewers compared to 2017. Nine’s show lost 33,000 from their 2017 figures, and The Front Bar’s dropped from 232,000 to 229,000.

Nationally the two footy shows on Nine — NRL and AFL — were watched by 632,000 viewers and The Front Bar by 451,000. Strip out the NRL audiences in Sydney (78,000), Brisbane (51,000), regional Queensland (28,000), and the northern NSW audience of 32,000 and you get an AFL Footy Show audience of around 447,000. All the 451,000 viewers for The Front Bar were AFL fans.

Or put it another way, more people watched Ten’s The Bachelor (1.12 million) than watched Nine and Seven’s footy shows combined (1.087 million). The Bachelor had a total of 411,000 viewers in Sydney and Brisbane — game, set and match to The Honey Badger.

And before Nine gets ahead of itself, there was a key change in the tech side of ratings which shows how worried Nine is about the weak AFL and NRL shows. Last year Nine separated the coding for the AFL and NRL footy shows, meaning they were rated separately. The AFL show had 432,000 viewers, the NRL show, 460,000 for a total of 892,000. This year the single show coding produced a result of 636,000 — a fall of 256,000 or nearly 29%.

The real losses were felt in the NRL program. The Sydney audience last night was 78,000 (down from 159,000 a year ago) while the Brisbane audience (the other key NRL market), the audience fell to 51,000 from 129,000. It seems the absence of a Queensland team in the NRL final saw a massive slide in viewers and doesn’t bode well for Sunday night’s Grand Final on Nine.

Regardless of Eddie’s win last night, there will be some tough decisions ahead at Nine.

Read Glenn Dyer’s full rundown TV ratings on the Crikey website