Footy finals TV: a tale of two cities – and three networks

This weekend is a big one for footy fans, and an even bigger one for Nine, Seven, and Foxtel, as they prepare for week two of finals across the NRL and AFL. It’s a ratings battle that has so far seen Sydney and Melbourne audiences very much at odds with each other – and Foxtel fans at odds with the rest of the nation.

Last Friday night showed a clear divide between NRL fans in Sydney and AFL fans in Melbourne. 

When it comes to the two codes competing head to head, AFL trounced the NRL across the five metro cities, with 784,000 viewers on Seven, compared to the rugby league’s 547,000 over on Nine. 

For consistency, I am using OzTAM Metropolitan Free to Air Reports, which gathers the five capital cities’ overnight viewing data, for Seven and Nine broadcasts. These viewership figures do not include the streaming services.

For Fox Footy and Fox League, I’m using the OzTAM National Subscription Reports.

Look at the breakdown of the various cities, however, and Melbourne’s disinterest in league, and Sydney’s in Aussie Rules, is quite pronounced. 

Of the 784,000 viewers that tuned into the AFL, 428,000 of them were in Melbourne. 

Only 87,000 bothered to watch in Sydney. For further context, that means less televisions in the whole of Sydney were tuned to the AFL than there were people at the actual ground. Attendance for the game, which was held at the MCG, was 92,026.

For the rugby league, 256,000 Sydneysiders made up the 547,000 five-city total. In Melbourne, however, just 31,000 viewers tuned in. These are abysmal numbers for a national sporting code.

The idea of Melbourne being an AFL city, and Sydney being an NRL city is nothing revolutionary – in fact, it’s a crucial part of the cultural divide between the two cities. 

But making these ratings discrepancies even more compelling is the fact that the Friday night AFL game saw the Sydney Swans play an elimination final against Carlton. If ever Sydney would have tuned in, surely it’s then.

Same deal with the rugby league. The Melbourne Storm were battling the Brisbane Broncos – there wasn’t even a Sydney team involved. Yet eight times more Sydney viewers than Melbourne viewers tuned in. (Good thing too, given Melbourne’s 26-0 loss).

Across the entire weekend, the AFL on Seven consistently out-rated the NRL on Nine. This is no surprise, and nothing new.

But over on Foxtel, it’s a completely different story.

Friday night saw 291,000 Foxtel subscribers tuned to the NRL, compared to 232,000 for the AFL.

Saturday night saw the two league games outrate the AFL games, with the evening games for each code drawing 263,000 and 202,000 – a difference of over 60,000 viewers.

Tonight sees another head-to-head clash between networks and leagues, with both games kicking off at 7.50pm.

There’s a Sydney team in the rugby league this time, and two Melbourne teams facing off in the AFL. Whether this will make the divide larger or smaller is hard to predict.

But footy is all also betting, after all – so in that spirit, I predict we may see even less Melburnians care about the rugby league game this week, but that the overall ratings for NRL will rise. 


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