Rugby fails to fire this year on TV
Australian rugby may have been a big hit on TV screens last year but the same can’t be said for 2012.
The Waratahs anus horriblis, the Reds mid-season form slump and ordinary seasons from the Force and Rebels meant that rugby union has failed to rate with the same power in did in 2011.
The lack of the Rugby World Cup effect, as well as the introduction of several afternoon games and the unpredictable form of the Wallabies has combined to see rugby fail to capitalise on the gains of last year.
The Super Rugby season started with a solid result, 193,000 tuning in nationally to see the Reds’ dramatic last second opening round win over the Tahs.
That was the highest rating sports broadcast in week 8, beating AFL’s NAB Cup and the cricket.
The next weekend, with the return of the NRL, was not so good. No Super Rugby game was in the top 10 or rated higher than 112,000.
In week 10 (round 3 of the Super Rugby season) the Reds vs Rebels at Suncorp managed to sneak in at 10th place with 136,000 viewers.
The next weekend the derby match of the Tahs vs the Force pulled in 134,000, which placed 7th in the top ten.
The following weekend Super Rugby managed to snag 9th and 10th place with the Rebels vs Force receiving 130,000 and the Waratahs vs Sharks getting 99,000.
Round 6 of the Super Rugby season saw no match pick up more than 129,000 viewers, with the Force vs Reds failing to interest viewers, while round 7 was the same story – no Super Rugby game in the top ten, with the Reds vs Brumbies not receiving an audience higher than 145,000 viewers.
In Round 8 no game rated higher than 173,000 or was in the top 10, but in Round 9 the Waratahs vs Rebels game was the 9th highest sports program for the week and pulled in 149,000. Round 10 failed to fire ahead of NRL or AFL, with nothing over 194,000, and in Round 11 the Brumbies vs Tahs clash wasn’t watched by more than 162,000.
In Round 12 no games rated over 167,000, Round 13 also had nothing in the top 10 and nothing higher than 181,000, the same as Round 14 which had nothing higher than 200,000.
In Round 15 nothing was watched by more than 153,000 and then we had a four week international break. The Wallabies headed to Newcastle to play a mid-week Test against Scotland and then had a three-Test series against Wales.
Channel Nine bumped the Scotland game to a late-night timeslot and less than 165,000 metro free-to-air viewers tuned in. On Fox Sports live coverage of the game was much better received – 256,000 watched Australia lose in terrible conditions, which was the fourth highest rating sports broadcast of that week.
For the Wales-Wallabies clash at Suncorp, 258,000 watched on pay TV and 288,000 metro viewers watched on Nine.
The next Wales Test received audiences of 305,000 metro viewers on Nine and less than 227,000 national viewers on Fox, as the match failed to score in the top 10. The third and final Test, this time played in the afternoon in Sydney, had a poor result. While a record crowd attended at Allianz for the 3pm kick-off, only 142,000 watched on Fox Sports and just 212,000 on Nine.
We then returned to Super Rugby action for Round 16, with games such as the Force vs Brumbies, but nothing was watched by more than 121,000 viewers. In Round 17 again no Super Rugby game was in the top ten, with nothing rating higher than 148,000, and in the final Round (18) there was a little change. With finals places for the Brumbies and Reds on the line, the Reds vs Tahs match was watch by 176,000 and was the eighth most watched sports program of that week.
Plenty of necessary raw data – now for the analysis.
What do all those figures tell us? Well, a few obvious things, for starters.
The Waratahs have the largest fan base and attract the most TV viewers – which was not surprising considering they represent the largest player base and biggest state. And their poor season has not only hurt their pulling potential but the overall figures for Australian rugby as a whole. People have turned off the Tahs this year.
The Reds set 2011 alight with brilliant, attacking rugby. For a number of reasons, that has not happened this year. Injuries, new debutants and the improvement of other teams has meant the Queensland team has not been able to replicate its 2011 run.
They are still in the hunt to defend their title, but it appears unlikely they will win again. Their 2011 semi and final pulled in huge TV ratings but it’s a long shot for this to happen this year.
The Brumbies have a smaller fan base than the Tahs and Reds but have had an outstanding 2012 – apart from the last round. But their rugby hasn’t really been the most pleasant on the eye, grounding out teams and playing a tough but consistent kind of defensive rugby more common in South Africa.
I say this as a Brumbies fan, and while winning is the ultimate, they don’t seem to have been able to pull in other Aussie fans to watch this ACT side like the great attacking Brumbies teams of 1999-2004 did.
The Force and Rebels are still developing, building their fan bases and their brands. But both sides haven’t had great seasons on the field this year, or won many games, which can’t have helped the ratings.
Injuries across all five franchises has also played a big part – we have missed the talents of the great entertainers like Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and others. These players not only bring in more rugby fans they also attract the neutral sports fans.
Compounding all of this has been the play of the Wallabies. They lost to Scotland in one of the worst conditions and worst games in recent memory (I was there, and 30 minutes of one-out pick and drive puts most people to sleep).
They then beat Wales 3-0 in a series that had its exciting and dramatic moments but wasn’t edge-of-your-seat stuff. Tries were hard to come by and the Wallabies kicked a lot. This didn’t excite the fanbase and the ARU needs the Wallabies to play entertaining rugby. Poor coverage from Channel Nine hasn’t helped either.
Another fact has been the capture of the AFL rights by Foxtel and the huge investment the pay TV broadcaster is making in the sport. AFL has rated well on pay TV all year, has its own dedicated channel and Foxtel is doing all it can to promote the code to its existing subscriber base.
I believe there are some warning signs for the ARU. Super Rugby is regularly out-rated on pay TV by both NRL and AFL, often by between 50,000-150,000 viewers on average each week, despite these sports having free-to-air coverage as well.
The ARU needs to put an emphasis to its all its teams, including the Wallabies, to play attacking, entertaining rugby. Engaging and exciting fans is key.
The mess at the Tahs needs to be sorted out and the Force need a coach who will get his team playing an attractive brand of rugby. They also need a free-to-air TV partner who will support the game and not take the piss – it’s time to ditch Nine and go back to Network Ten.
Yes, Ten hasn’t been the best rugby partner in the past, but Ten are looking at all the sports content it can get and can be easier convinced to get behind rugby than Nine or Seven either would.
Tough decisions need to be made at the top of Australian rugby. Afternoon rugby is popular with attending fans but not those watching on the box. 2011 was a step ahead for the code, with playing participation levels growing. But I believe this year crowd attendances for Australian Super Rugby teams have declined, and TV figures obviously have been poor.
It’s been one step forward, one step back. Over to you, John O’Neill.
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