Do Grand Final ratings justify expansion?

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Darren Jolly of Collingwood celebrates a goal during the 2010 Toyota AFL Grand Final replay between the Collingwood Magpies and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

Darren Jolly of Collingwood celebrates a goal during the 2010 Toyota AFL Grand Final replay between the Collingwood Magpies and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

The AFL must be delighted with the television ratings generated in both Sydney and Brisbane from the replayed 2010 grand final. With two Victorian teams going head-to-head in the AFL and two NSW teams in the NRL, this removed the parochial factor that so often clouds the debate between AFL and NRL over grand final TV ratings.

In the five capital city ratings, the AFL averaged 2.69 million compared to the NRL’s 2.09 million. Much of the difference was made up in the AFL’s expansion states of NSW and QLD where the GF averaged 405,000 viewers in Sydney and 375,000 in Brisbane.

This is in stark contrast to the NRL which only managed 221,000 in Melbourne, 33,000 in Adelaide and 75,000 in Perth.

TV executives make their decisions on TV rights dollars based on the five capital city market. The regional TV ratings are secondary to the equation. In fact, regional TV ratings double count certain areas like the Gold Coast and often totally exclude areas such as regional WA and SA.

Do the above TV ratings quantify the benefits of expansion?

The AFL expanded before the NRL (apart from the failed SuperLeague experiment) and established teams in all five capital cities.

The presence of a team creates interest. When that team does well the TV ratings skyrocket, but it’s difficult to separate real interest from parochial interest.

The Melbourne TV ratings for the NRL in 2009 was a clear vase of parochial driven ratings, the same with the Swans in the AFL driving up past Sydney TV ratings.

It should be noted that even with Melbourne Storm in the NRL GF, the NRL ratings were approximately the same as the AFL with two Victorian teams. When the Sydney Swans appeared in the AFL GF, TV ratings nationally were by far the biggest achieved in the two codes ever.

The 2010 GF ratings in each code make the picture much clearer. The penetration of AFL is greater than the NRL nationally, due to expansion.

The NRL GF really struggled in its non-traditional markets despite its TV friendly timeslot of late Sunday afternoon.

In Melbourne, where a team exists and games such as State of Origin and Tests have been played, a niche market has been created but it was still almost only half of the Sydney ratings for the AFL GF.

In Perth, where the NRL is mooting a future team, and has a heavier influx of mining related expats from NSW/QLD, the game attracted 75,000. However, in Adelaide where the NRL has little presence other than a game or two a year, the ratings were a paltry 33,000.

Thus the case for the AFL expanding with second teams into NSW and QLD draws strength.

NSW and QLD represent approximately 55 per cent of the Australian population. By increasing the presence of Australian football in these states, this ensures at least one game a week is played. The AFL, therefore, continues to entrench itself into the sporting psyche and builds on the interest in those states.

The other advantage of expansion with two teams in each non-traditional market is the odds of one of them making the grand final doubles.

As we have seen with traditional markets, they will watch the grand final regardless of who is playing, but there is a much bigger parochial interest in non-traditional areas. Another argument for expansion.

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