What is Australia’s biggest sporting event?

Myles Stedman Roar Guru

By Myles Stedman, Myles Stedman is a Roar Guru

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    It’s one of those questions that every Australian sports fan has both an opinion on and a pretty good case for: what is Australia’s biggest sporting event?

    When addressing this question, it can be looked at a number of ways: what is the most watched? The most attended? The most all-encompassing?

    Or just the most exciting and enthralling? Using this criteria, I will attempt to offer a perspective on what is Australia’s biggest sporting event?

    The Ashes
    The Ashes would be my early pick for Australia’s biggest sporting event.

    It fits all the criteria: it’s widely watched, attended, has a Test in each major city, and takes the entire nation by storm.

    While to most it is exciting and enthralling, with each Test building up its own unique storyline, those who are not cricket fans could likely not think of anything more boring. However, such is the nature of every sport – there will be those who love it and those who hate it.

    The Ashes’ particular ability for national heroes to be made of both individuals and teams through a storyline unique to each Test is what makes the Ashes arguably Australia’s biggest sporting event.

    State of Origin
    State of Origin is repeatedly the most watched sporting event on TV all year – that counts for a lot.

    It no doubt has the popularity to be considered the biggest in Australia. The entertainment value is through the roof – 34 huge men running into each other with the energy of a hate-fuelled state behind them, for 80 minutes straight, trying to cross a white line.

    The premise is so simple yet so enthralling and entertaining. It matters little that Queensland have won eight straight years – in fact, it perhaps makes it better.

    Every year the series is competitive, no matter how lop-sided the teams are.

    The one knock on State of Origin’s case it that it’s not exactly inclusive. The hatred between the New South Welshmen and the Queenslanders fuels perhaps the greatest rivalry in Australian sports, but to the rest of Australia, it’s just another game of league.

    AFL grand final
    Australian rules is arguably the most popular sport in the country, and even if you don’t agree, the AFL is no doubt the most popular sporting competition.

    Hence, it only makes sense that the finale of the league is considered one of the most popular games of sport in the country.

    120 minutes of pure skill and disregard for personal safety creates the atmosphere of of one of the most intense battles on the Australian sporting calendar.

    It ticks all the boxes – attendance, viewership, entertainment – and it matters little if your team isn’t playing – but if they are, it’s life or death.

    While the knocks against it are similar to that of Origin, the champions of the AFL competition generally means a bit to each neutral viewer, and everyone takes a side on the day.

    Melbourne Cup
    While the Melbourne Cup doesn’t have the same kind of passion-fuelled atmosphere as the other three events, it has it’s own kind of engrossing, intense feel.

    Similar to the Ashes, it’s not team-specific, and is popular among (and not limited to) almost every Australian for one reason or another.

    Like most other sports, it doesn’t require intense concentration to understand what’s going on, nor does it require the discipline to watch over a long period of time.

    The Melbourne Cup is like a five-minute unstoppable coal train that every year stops the nation.

    Bledisloe Cup
    The Bledisloe Cup is one of those series that every Australian wants to win, simply on principle. Losing to the little bother New Zealand always hurts, no matter what is being contested, and that very ideal means that this matters to every Australian.

    The games are both widely-viewed and entertaining, despite falling crowds in Sydney.

    The way the game is played has Australia on tenterhooks from start to finish – and with the extra spice of trying to beat the gifted little brother, it makes every knock-on and lost ball a soul-crushing mistake.

    However, the slow, patient and woeful displays of rugby put on of late by the Wallabies contrasted with the brilliance of the All Blacks is pushing people away from the annual fixture.

    Honourable mentions
    Australian Open tennis, Australian open golf, Sydney to Hobart, F1 Grand Prix, Bathurst 1000

    What do you think, Roarers? What is Australia’s biggest sporting event?

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    The Crowd Says (181)

    • January 10th 2014 @ 6:48am
      albo said | January 10th 2014 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      The melbourne cup.The race that stops a nation.No other sport has that level of interest.

      • Roar Guru

        January 12th 2014 @ 9:14pm
        apaway said | January 12th 2014 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

        Albo, I don’t think there is very much interest in the “sport” at all on Melbourne Cup day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of the crowd that go to Flemington would not be able to name every horse in the race, let alone half the jockeys. The majority of the people are interested in getting a skinful and wearing the most ridiculous hats they can find.

    • January 10th 2014 @ 9:01am
      AZ_RBB said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Dead heat between AFL Grand Final and State of Origin. Each year they take over half of the nation for a week. I would give SoO the edge as it does so 3 times a year and involves teams that are backed by half of the population. But I have some NSW bias.

      • January 10th 2014 @ 11:13am
        Kasey said | January 10th 2014 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        No way can it be Crate of Oranges(SoO) When only half the country and a few hipsters in the so called ‘AFL-states’ give a fig about it.
        Similarly the AFL GF is mostly ignored North of the Murray (unless a local team is involved)
        My tip is the Melbourne Cup…seems every office in the country grinds to a halt to run a sweeps and watch on the tele for the afternoon on the 2nd Tuesday in November…many don’t bother going back to work after ward(part of the appeal!)

        • January 14th 2014 @ 5:27pm
          Dru said | January 14th 2014 @ 5:27pm | ! Report


        • Roar Rookie

          January 15th 2014 @ 10:56am
          josh said | January 15th 2014 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          In Queensland the AFL GF is a pretty big deal. Maybe in Sydney, where no cares about sport.

    • January 10th 2014 @ 9:11am
      Tigranes said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      Biggest in terms of viewers would have to be the HAL final – its shown throughout Asia and its global audience would be bigger than the Superbowl.

      In terms of just Australia, you would have to say the Melbourne Cup.

      • January 10th 2014 @ 11:42am
        Spikhaza said | January 10th 2014 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Yeah sorry but you’re dreaming if you think the HAL final is viewed more than the super bowl

        • January 10th 2014 @ 12:45pm
          Ben said | January 10th 2014 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

          Outside of a few severely underweight hipsters and yankophile weirdos, no one gives a stuff about the american rugby game outside of yankland.

          • January 10th 2014 @ 1:09pm
            Steve said | January 10th 2014 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            It may be broadcast to a wide population, but that doesn’t mean many people in these populated markets watch the A-League Grand Final. I love the A-League, but spouting this nonsense does no good to the advancement of the league.

            And any source that claims the A-League Grand Final is bigger than the Superbowl is clearly not credible. It’s actually beyond a joke. I’d be incredibly (& pleasantly) surprised if viewership outside of Australia would even top 1 million. And that’s from years of experience analysing global sports events. Let alone the ten’s of millions that watch the Superbowl.

      • January 10th 2014 @ 9:37pm
        ozinsa said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

        I know I’m going to feel like a fool when this is answered but what is the HAL Final?

        • January 11th 2014 @ 12:02pm
          Shmick said | January 11th 2014 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

          It took me a while to work out “HAL” too, but I think it’s “Hyundai A-League” (soccer).

          Weird to include the sponsor in a league acronym, but whatever. I wonder what the TAFL and TNRL would say about that?

          • January 11th 2014 @ 12:40pm
            Stavros said | January 11th 2014 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

            Are there any other supporters in the world who would include the sponsor in the league’s name? Strange bunch.

            • Roar Guru

              January 12th 2014 @ 9:18pm
              apaway said | January 12th 2014 @ 9:18pm | ! Report

              I see the English Premier League referred to as the BPL (Barclays Premier League) more and more these days. And for years, rugby league was referred to as the Winfield Cup, and is still known widely as the Telstra Premiership.

              • January 12th 2014 @ 10:39pm
                Stavros said | January 12th 2014 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

                I’m talking about fans. Find me one person who is not in the UK media, that refers to it as the BPL. You honestly telling me that RL supporters call it the Telstra Premiership. Sorry mate, but Aussie soccer fans are out on their own here.

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 2:40pm
                apaway said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

                NAB Cup? Heard PLENTY of Aussie Rules fans call it that.

              • January 20th 2014 @ 9:46pm
                Calum said | January 20th 2014 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

                I’m going to try and complete this post without falling about laughing thinking about the post suggesting the A league is bigger than the superbowl. I’m sure the advertising at half time is just as sought after….

                anyway, back in the real world

                no one in the UK media refers to it as the BPL.

                I moved here 18 months ago and still read the UK press most days and I have *never* heard of it as that.

                hate sponsorhsip of grounds, cups, trophies, team names etc. About the only exceptions to that I will award are Eindhoven and Leverkusen in football (soccer) and the packers in the NFL.

      • June 25th 2014 @ 1:51am
        Chris said | June 25th 2014 @ 1:51am | ! Report

        What’s HAL?

      • June 25th 2014 @ 1:58am
        Chris said | June 25th 2014 @ 1:58am | ! Report

        The A league gf was broadcast on 2 networks for a total of 1.4 million Viewers (rounding up there) so good luck trying to pass that one off as popular

    • January 10th 2014 @ 9:17am
      Johnno said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Asian Cup 2015 Soccer, might be our biggest sports event ever staged. Maybe even bigger TV numbers than the Olympic’s, as now Asia’s population is bigger and more advanced since 2015, and all love soccer. Most of the World’s population is in Asia around 4 billion people, the World has about 7 billion.

      Asian champion’s league also will get bigger and bigger for Aussie audiences.

      Lion’s series is massive but that is only every 12 years. That is bigger than state of origin too. OZ open tennis, means more to more aussies than state of origin I reckon. Huge TV ratings for the final.

      AFL grand final definately has more meaning than state of origin.

      • January 10th 2014 @ 1:15pm
        Steve said | January 10th 2014 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        The biggest Asian market in terms of football viewership is Indonesia, and they very much have a focus on European leagues, aprticularly the premier league due to free to air coverage.

        Yes 4 billion people live in Asia. However, 3.5 billion of those people do not have a representative in the Asian Cup, let alone the many hundreds of millions/billions who still do not have access to the requisite TV channels. The interest from India and China will still be relatively minor, particularly when it is not the pinnacle (or 2nd or 3rd) international football competition.

        It will not have a bigger audience than the Olympics. And not everyone in Asia loves soccer. In India, Cricket, Tennis and Hockey are the biggest sports. In China it is Basketball, Table Tennis and Basketball.

        • January 11th 2014 @ 8:51am
          Avon River said | January 11th 2014 @ 8:51am | ! Report

          ‘Potential audience’

    • January 10th 2014 @ 9:25am
      waterboy said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      HAL grand final has a bigger audience than the Superbowl?

      I would love to see some figures to back up that statement

      • January 10th 2014 @ 9:46am
        mushi said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        I think he’s referring to the restaurant in Sydney’s china town. Gets a good crowd on a friday night but nothing like the HAL final

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2014 @ 10:45am
          Will Sinclair said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:45am | ! Report

          Brilliant mushi. That’s brilliant.

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2014 @ 9:48am
        Renegade said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        I thought Tigranes comment was tongue in cheek…. surely?

      • January 10th 2014 @ 9:56am
        Tigranes said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:56am | ! Report


        I recall seeing figures saying that the potential audience for the HAL final is around 100M. This is pretty much on the same boat as the Superbowl’s global audience.

        Remember the HAL has made big inroads in Asia which has a population of billions and it is a favourable timezone.

        • January 10th 2014 @ 10:24am
          Australian Rules said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          Oh my god, he *wasn’t* joking.

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2014 @ 10:36am
            langou said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:36am | ! Report


            The A-League should be making a fortune selling a product to a global audience of 100m

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2014 @ 1:30pm
              Ben of Phnom Penh said | January 10th 2014 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

              Following the same logic, 100m people watch “Home and Away”, now there’s a scary thought!

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2014 @ 10:58am
          Will Sinclair said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          Surely the potential audience shouldn’t be limited to Asia? Or even to Earth?

          I imagine there are billions of alien life forms out there who could potentially be watching as well.

          You really are selling yourself short with that 100 million figure.

          • January 10th 2014 @ 11:14am
            Kasey said | January 10th 2014 @ 11:14am | ! Report

            potential audience??? Not really a reliable KPI is it?

          • January 10th 2014 @ 1:54pm
            mushi said | January 10th 2014 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            I wonder what the interplanetary legal framework is for media rights?

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2014 @ 2:40pm
              Ben of Phnom Penh said | January 10th 2014 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

              The damn Venutions keep pirating the signal. Stuffs it up for everyone.

              • January 10th 2014 @ 2:51pm
                mushi said | January 10th 2014 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

                “Dey took our A League!”

        • Roar Pro

          January 10th 2014 @ 2:25pm
          Eliot Bingham said | January 10th 2014 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

          Tigranes, the SuperBowl attracts a worldwide audience of nearly 200M. Keep dreaming champ!

          • January 11th 2014 @ 2:05am
            trent said | January 11th 2014 @ 2:05am | ! Report

            I believe the actual figure for superbowl viewing on a global scale, (ie those that acutally watched it) is 125 miillion and of that 122 miillion would be in USA.

        • January 10th 2014 @ 3:50pm
          Sam said | January 10th 2014 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

          There would be at least 100m Americans watching the Superbowl. Add the global audience for that event and the HAL GF would easily be eclipsed. For me, the the biggest sporting event by audience domestically and Australia wide would be one of AFL GF or NRL GF. SOO isn’t a single event, so I’d say SOO live-decider.

    • Roar Guru

      January 10th 2014 @ 9:48am
      sheek said | January 10th 2014 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Good question Myles. Very good question.

      The problem is mixing one-off events with multiple events.

      For example, Melbourne Cup & AFL grand final are one-offs, while Ashes & SOO are multiple events. Furthermore, Ashes only occurs every 3-4 years (in Australia).

      Single events.

      1. Melbourne Cup.

      2. AFL GF.

      3. NRL GF.

      Honourable mention for tennis Australian Open men’s final & golf US Masters (or do these qualify as multiple events – played over several rounds &/or days?).

      Multiple events.

      1. SOO.

      2. AFL finals series.

      3. NRL finals series.

      As a rugby fan, I would love to include Bledisloe Cup, but Wallabies simply haven’t held up their end of the contest. Consequently, Aussie sports fans don’t have the same attraction for BC as about a decade ago.

      Football (soccer) via A-League is closing but still has some way to go. Ditto cricket’s BBL.

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2014 @ 10:55am
        Will Sinclair said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        Good point Sheek.

        The most watched sporting events held in Australia last year by the distance of the straight were the Lions Tests (and in 2011 it was the RWC). But they are held rarely, and so probably shouldn’t count.

        Hopefully the Tahs hosting the 2014 Super Rugby Final will be a heavily watched event!

        • January 10th 2014 @ 10:59am
          Renegade said | January 10th 2014 @ 10:59am | ! Report


          Not sure where you got that info from but it’s clearly wrong. The lions tests and the 2011 RWC were nowhere near the most watched in Australia in either year.

          The most watched event on TV last year was SOO 1… Lions tests didn’t even get to half the audience of Origin 1.

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2014 @ 11:50am
            Will Sinclair said | January 10th 2014 @ 11:50am | ! Report

            I said most watched sporting events HELD in Australia last year were the Lions Tests – that would include those watching in Europe and NZ (in particular).

            I admit to being a little unclear on the other one (although I believe the Aust v NZ Semi Final was nationally the most watched in 2011).

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2014 @ 11:54am
              Renegade said | January 10th 2014 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              Oh i see.

              The 2011 semi was the most watched RU game in Australia that year but it was outside the top 5 most watched Australian sporting events in 2011.

            • January 10th 2014 @ 1:18pm
              Steve said | January 10th 2014 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

              I think the Australian Open (tennis) would still have higher total viewership, least of which is due to the span of the tournament.

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