NRL claims edge over AFL in ratings battle

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    The Sharks looking dejected during the round 25 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Cronulla Sharks. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan

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    The NRL is claiming superiority over AFL as it seeks to improve its media rights deal. Over the past week, some interesting figures have been released, which the NRL hierarchy has seized on.

    Firstly, the top 20 highest ratings programs on free-to-air TV for 2011, across the five metro cities in total people, were revealed according to OzTam figures (the official ratings survey – summer isn’t included).

    On this list the highest sports event was this year’s Melbourne Cup race, in sixth place, which received 2.667 million viewers. Just behind that in seventh was the AFL grand final with 2.641 million.

    Underneath that in eighth was the third State of Origin match with 2.492 million, followed by the first State of Origin game in twelfth with 2.245 million and the NRL grand final in thirteenth with 2.172 million.

    Rounding out the top 20 was the second State of Origin match in fourteenth with 2.165 million, the Melbourne Cup presentation in seventeenth with 1.967 million and the AFL pre game show in nineteenth with 1.914 million.

    What does these results tell us? Well, firstly, home improvement is obviously popular in Australia if the final of The Block can top the lot and pull in 3.37 million viewers. Scary indeed.

    Also, that TV ratings are far from an exact science, considering the sample is not exactly massive but more of an estimate.

    Also, that one-off events like the Melbourne Cup can be very popular, but harder to sustain. But what the NRL would be crowing about is the fact that although the AFL grand final rated higher than its showpiece in this instance (no regional viewers included in this list), it had more programs in the top 20 than its Melbourne counterpart.

    The State of Origin series gives it an extra three game buffer that brings in advertisers and viewers in droves. Hence why unbundling Origin from the rest of the NRL deal makes sense, and could be a real money-spinner. Also it proves why the AFL has sought to create its own Origin series and maintained its International Rules series against Ireland.

    Secondly, last week the NRL came out with a story in The Sydney Morning Herald that spruiked its ratings strength.

    The NRL stated that it had cumulative audience of 134 million viewers, and that its free-to-air and pay TV audiences had grown by 1.3 percent and 16 percent respectively this year. No attribution for these figures though.

    Many people would agree that rugby league is a perfect sport to watch on TV while AFL is better experienced live at a ground, where you can get a view of all the action.

    AFL of course has the advantage over the NRL if that it is the stronger code all around the country (more of a national footprint), has more cash reserves and is sitting pretty on a $1.25 billion broadcast agreement. It also naturally has more breaks for advertisers with its game structure, while the NRL is stuck in intimate holds with Channel Nine and News Limited, which both have first-and-last-rights clauses for its rights.

    With both Football Federation Australia and the V8 Supercars seeking to improve their broadcast deals (and the V8s scoring a coup by getting former Fox Sports head David Malone as its new CEO), it’s imperative that the NRL doesn’t drop the ball when it comes to negotiating its own media deal.

    There can’t be enough money to go round for all three to get a better deal. The NRL has a strong case for receiving more money, but it has a real job on its hands making sure it succeeds and the clock is ticking.