The bums on seats truth about the NRL draw

Jason Hosken Roar Guru

By Jason Hosken, Jason Hosken is a Roar Guru

 , ,

36 Have your say

    If referees are triple-20 on the dartboard-of-discontent then the mathematical boffins behind the NRL draw must be bunkered in the bulls-eye.

    With prime time games in the pockets of television bigwigs, for every smiling fan there’s a bay of disgruntled flag-wavers screaming their team’s draw stinks of two-and-two equals three.

    To side-step the jibber I’ve untangled the migration path of gate-paying fans to find out what really blows their trumpet.

    The analysis includes all premiership games (finals excluded) from the past two seasons so as to minimise fluctuations attributed to weather, team performance and other sneaky quirks.


    The 384 premiership matches played over the last two seasons attracted 5.83 million fans at an average of 15,220 per game with the 2016 total one-percent up on 2015.
    Saturday indeed proved Super hosting more matches (37%) than any other but Friday ranked highest at the turnstile pulling 20,336 per match, while Monday proved a couch magnet with a wooden spoon winning 12,831.

    Despite playing home to nine teams including St George Illawarra (56%), Sydney only hosted 50.3% of fixtures drawing 14,180 per match while the 191 games played beyond its boundaries attracted an extra 2,286 per game.

    Queensland’s domination extended beyond the fence, out-drawing both New South Wales and New Zealand with a game day average of 21,057 across 75 contests.

    Only six clubs (Brisbane, Canberra, Cronulla, Gold Coast, Newcastle, North Queensland) played all 24 home games at the one venue. Parramatta and South Sydney played the least (18) at their primary base while St George-Illawarra and Manly used the most ‘home’ venues (5).

    No other team came close to matching the Broncos popularity, with the one-horse town hosting a whopping home game average of 33,643.

    Of the major grounds, WIN Stadium in Wollongong and Campbelltown Stadium proved least popular averaging 10,299 and 10,871 respectively. ANZ Stadium was Sydney’s most popular ground for usage and average attendance while Belmore was unmatched in crowd average among Sydney’s hill lined suburban venues – even trumping the fully furnished Pirtek Stadium.

    The biggest turnout was a wall-bursting 52,347 at Suncorp Stadium for this season’s Round 10 double header. The Roosters’ 2016 clash with the Tigers at Allianz Stadium drew the least (3,622), a surprising 356 less than survived last year’s Round-7 Sharknado.

    Regional and non-affiliated NRL cities held 14 matches (4%) attracting on average 11,975 per match. Of the nine locations, three (Perth, Napier NZ and Christchurch NZ) attracted crowds larger than the average attendance of the substituted venue.


    Team Venue Thurs Fri
    G/AC G/AC
    Broncos Suncorp 6/33,379 15/33,673
    Raiders GIO 2/7,586
    Bulldogs ANZ 1/10,290 8/22,731
    Bulldogs Belmore 1/10,144
    Bulldogs Wellington, NZ
    Sharks Shark Park 2/9,211
    Titans Cbus Super 2/18,256
    Sea Eagles Brookvale 2/12,118 5/12,619
    Sea Eagles Lavington, Albury
    Sea Eagles Gosford
    Sea Eagles Suncorp*
    Sea Eagles Nib, Perth
    Storm AAMI 2/16,109
    Storm Napier, NZ
    Storm Suncorp*
    Knights Hunter
    Cowboys 1300SMILES 3/12,138 3/21,727
    Eels Pirtek 1/17,324 5/13,380
    Eels ANZ 2/24,448
    Eels Marrara, NT
    Panthers Pepper 1/11,125 4/14,961
    Panthers Bathurst
    Panthers Christchurch, NZ
    Rabbitohs ANZ 2/11,641 6/20,101
    Rabbitohs Allianz 1/12,036
    Rabbitohs Cairns, Qld
    Rabbitohs Nib, Perth
    Dragons ANZ
    Dragons WIN 2/7,403
    Dragons Jubilee 1/9,647 2/10,642
    Dragons Allianz
    Dragons SCG
    Roosters Allianz 2/7,024 3/17,658
    Roosters Gosford
    Warriors Mt Smart
    Warriors New Plymouth, NZ
    Tigers ANZ 4/14,978
    Tigers Leichhardt 2/7,261
    Tigers Campbelltown
    Total 23/16,679 67/20,336


    Team Venue Sat Sun Mon
    G/AC G/AC G/AC
    Broncos Suncorp 2/32,396 1/37,260
    Raiders GIO 10/10,765 8/12,433 4/9,864
    Bulldogs ANZ 6/17,588 2/16,262 2/18,686
    Bulldogs Belmore 2/16,234 1/16,764
    Bulldogs Wellington, NZ 1/18,212
    Sharks Shark Park 9/14,508 9/14,725 4/9,130
    Titans Cbus Super 9/13,277 8/11,861 5/9,937
    Sea Eagles Brookvale 4/10,410 5/11,929 4/7,459
    Sea Eagles Lavington, Albury 1/6,436
    Sea Eagles Gosford 1/16,280
    Sea Eagles Suncorp* 1/52,347
    Sea Eagles Nib, Perth 1/11,109
    Storm AAMI 10/13,341 4/12,962 6/13,578
    Storm Napier, NZ 1/14,532
    Storm Suncorp* 1/52,347
    Knights Hunter 12/14,809 9/15,762 3/14,867
    Cowboys 1300SMILES 15/16,833 3/13,743
    Eels Pirtek 6/12,375 3/12,206 3/10,768
    Eels ANZ 1/14,428 1/35,510
    Eels Marrara, NT 2/8,031
    Panthers Pepper 7/11,163 7/13,459 2/9,031
    Panthers Bathurst 2/6,480
    Panthers Christchurch, NZ 1/18,000
    Rabbitohs ANZ 3/13,692 4/18,491 3/11,860
    Rabbitohs Allianz 1/8,273
    Rabbitohs Cairns, Qld 2/11,818
    Rabbitohs Nib, Perth 1/20,727 1/13,142
    Dragons ANZ 1/17,685 2/17,680 1/20,153
    Dragons WIN 4/10,375 2/13,042
    Dragons Jubilee 2/10,946 2/14,123 1/10,028
    Dragons Allianz 2/22,334
    Dragons SCG 1/18,217 1/17,824
    Roosters Allianz 6/15,962 7/12,751 5/9,715
    Roosters Gosford 1/10,113
    Warriors Mt Smart 14/14,890 8/14,161 1/13,895
    Warriors New Plymouth, NZ 1/12,833
    Tigers ANZ 1/10,582 1/20,936 2/25,729
    Tigers Leichhardt 5/13,905 1/11,269
    Tigers Campbelltown 6/11,403 1/6,711 1/11,837
    Total 143/14,514 95/14,120 56/12,831

    Total Crowd averages

    Team Venue G AC
    Broncos Suncorp 24 33,643
    Raiders GIO 24 10,906
    Bulldogs ANZ 19 19,345
    Bulldogs Belmore 4 14,844
    Bulldogs Wellington, NZ 1 18,212
    Sharks Shark Park 24 13,252
    Titans Cbus Super 24 12,524
    Sea Eagles Brookvale 20 10,923
    Sea Eagles Lavington, Albury 1 6,436
    Sea Eagles Gosford 1 16,280
    Sea Eagles Suncorp 1 52,347
    Sea Eagles Nib, Perth 1 11,109
    Storm AAMI 22 13,588
    Storm Napier, NZ 1 14,532
    Storm Suncorp 1 52,347
    Knights Hunter 24 15,174
    Cowboys 1300SMILES 24 16,472
    Eels Pirtek 18 12,633
    Eels ANZ 4 24,709
    Eels Marrara, NT 2 8,031
    Panthers Pepper 21 12,447
    Panthers Bathurst 2 6,480
    Panthers Christchurch, NZ 1 18,000
    Rabbitohs ANZ 18 16,362
    Rabbitohs Allianz 2 10,155
    Rabbitohs Cairns, Qld 2 11,818
    Rabbitohs Nib, Perth 2 16,935
    Dragons ANZ 4 18,300
    Dragons WIN 8 10,299
    Dragons Jubilee 8 11,387
    Dragons Allianz 2 22,334
    Dragons SCG 2 18,021
    Roosters Allianz 23 13,071
    Roosters Gosford 1 10,113
    Warriors Mt Smart 23 14,593
    Warriors New Plymouth, NZ 1 12,833
    Tigers ANZ 8 17,861
    Tigers Leichhardt 8 11,915
    Tigers Campbelltown 8 10,871
    Total 384 15,220

    The Sensible

    Like it or not Queensland is the spine of the NRL and an old favourite should now read, “when Queensland is going well, rugby league is going well’.

    With no end in sight to Banana-mania, their wide-ranging exposure makes commercial common sense and it’s why the three clubs north of the Tweed sit on pole position in the scheduling matrix.

    Prime time specialists Brisbane controlled 21 of 24 home games among Thursday and Friday nights. And no side out ranked the Cowboys on Saturday evenings with the Townville based outfit gifted 15 home games in their preferred slot.

    The Titans maintained Queensland’s focus covering the Sunday/Monday backshifts where they placed equal third and second respectively for most home games over those two days.

    More than a quarter of Melbourne’s home games occupied Monday nights and unlike other teams, attendances remained strong. The Storm averaged 13,578 on Mondays at AAMI Park, just 10 below the ground’s overall two year average.

    Two of Sydney’s most popular sides Canterbury and Souths usually alternated Thursday/Friday duties hosting a combined 19 games mostly at ANZ Stadium attracting the city’s most consistent and largest crowds.

    The new ANZ Stadium (Image: ANZ Stadium)

    The public holiday blockbuster is Sydney’s favourite, the Good Friday Rabbitohs v Bulldogs clash has a five-year average of 41,775 and since 2014 the Eels v Tigers Easter Monday fixture has averaged 40,763.

    Just as exciting is the success of the Roosters v St George-Illawarra Anzac Day match after 15 seasons. The Allianz fixture continues to appeal with crowds topping 34,000 since 2010.

    Ricky Stuart wasn’t the only Raider in favour of regular Saturday afternoon kick-offs. Fans also embraced the extra sunlight enjoying 13 daytime kick-offs at 11,734 per match compared to 11 shivering nights at 9,926.

    Unperturbed by the impending thwack of successive wooden spoons, Knights fans proved harder than a coffin-nail braving Hunter Stadium at 15,174 per match – 1,922 per game more than the premiers attracted to Shark Park.

    Footy bean counters love a human headlines and Jarryd Hayne proved maximum font. The Titans averaged 12,218 at home this year until the ex-49er hypnotised a further 9,480 through the gates in the closing rounds.

    And his ‘this is my town’ match winning field-goal occurred before the largest Campbelltown crowd since 2011.

    The myths

    Sydney’s suburban grounds are conducive to Sunday afternoon nostalgia but Penrith’s Pepper Stadium and Manly’s Brookvale Oval bucked the hype drawing bigger average crowds on Friday nights.

    Brisbane fans couldn’t care less about the Broncos’ prime time mortgage; they turn up regardless with only 30 more per match on Friday’s compared to the Suncorp two-year average.

    The Cowboys reckon Saturday starts are friendlier to their regional supporters, although the stats show an average of 4,894 more fans attended Friday matches.

    Plenty of locals insinuate ANZ is a cavernous wasteland to be avoided at all cost. Yet the Homebush venue is Sydney’s most popular, hosting 27% of games at 18,434 per match. Nearby venues averaged a combined 12,569 over the same period.

    Scope for improvement

    Mondays become Friday in 2017, kicking off at 6pm NSW time and without a Jason Taumalolo sized escort clearing traffic, it’ll be a tough slot for Sydneysiders to make.

    Expect the Storm to hog Friday’s early start. With 29 percent of their matches played on Mondays in 2015-16; it’s reasonable to assume they’ll champion the new ugly duckling without compromising gate receipts.

    Only 33 of the last 95 Sunday games were held at Sydney hilly relics, but until levelled they’ll always be best served with sunshine. Only five Sunday afternoon games were played at Brookvale over the past two years compared to eight for both Canberra and Gold Coast.

    An even share of the daylight would be conducive to more attractive old-school derbies. An extra daylight slot is also worth trialling by bringing forward the first two Saturday games to 2 and 4pm.

    Suncorp’s doubleheader returned in style for the first time since 2012 setting a premiership match ground record. The Sea Eagles are committed again in 2017 and with doubts over the concept having drifted out to sea; it should be here to stay.

    Still on Suncorp, it’s the white elephant fans like riding most; a second Brisbane side will ensure it’s a weekly cash cow the NRL deserves.

    Plenty of clubs will be viewing the Eels move to ANZ with interest. Having averaged 12,633 at Pirtek over the last two years, others will be keen to know if there’s value in relocating to the Olympic venue.

    And what about Gosford, the once relocation favourite has seen five games in three years at 12,509 punters per match. Its revival odds without a local team appear remote.

    At current trends, the coastal strip will soon be renamed Old Rugby League Town.

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (36)

    • October 27th 2016 @ 11:22am
      Brendon said | October 27th 2016 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      Friday night Melbourne…. I like it, no free to air games, but no horrendous 5 day turn arounds

      • Roar Guru

        October 27th 2016 @ 1:26pm
        Epiquin said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        Also, if anyone is going to make a 6pm football game, it’s Melbourne.

        • October 27th 2016 @ 6:54pm
          Geoff Foley said | October 27th 2016 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

          That’s true- early work drinks, hop on the tram and you can be at AAMI for 5:50 pretty easy.

        • Roar Guru

          October 27th 2016 @ 8:29pm
          Mister Football said | October 27th 2016 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          Good for Canberra as well.

          All those public servants knocking off at 4pm on a Friday, a couple of quick drinks, and make it to Bruce with time to spare before kick-off.

        • October 28th 2016 @ 3:00am
          Boban Fett said | October 28th 2016 @ 3:00am | ! Report

          What about the Warriors? Don’t forget 6pm in Sydney is 8pm in Auckland.

          • Roar Guru

            October 28th 2016 @ 7:24am
            Jason Hosken said | October 28th 2016 @ 7:24am | ! Report

            Good point. Would it be smart pitting them head-to-head with NZ’s Super Rugby prime time?

    • October 27th 2016 @ 11:26am
      rakshop said | October 27th 2016 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Interesting read. It shows that the AFL is obviously way ahead on crowd numbers, but I think it also shows that the NRL hasn’t done as badly as everyone think they have.

      However, there are a few idiosyncrasies that this article doesn’t go into detail that would require further/warrant examination. The articles claim that the “Cowboys draw a larger home crowd then on a Friday than on Saturday” is probably the best example. Generally speaking, the Cowboys only play on a Friday for genuine blockbusters (Broncos, Souths 2015, Bulldogs 2016 come to mind). If the Cowboys were to play Newcastle on a Friday night, and play the Broncos on a Saturday night, then I am sure the results would be different. It probably skews the point of view of the articles conclusions. If the author had time, it might be worth seeing what data is available for matches between teams in the top 4 or 8 on a Friday vs Saturday vs Sunday. It would also be worthwhile to compare these crowd figures against available TV rating data.

      • Roar Guru

        October 27th 2016 @ 11:50am
        Jason Hosken said | October 27th 2016 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        Rakshop – rakmybrain!

        Spot-on with your assessment. You could delve and delve to satisfy your narrative as Ikin/Kent would say. My main reason for choosing 2 seasons was in part to try and smooth the generalisations you highlight. In the NQ case, the data is most definitely skewed – by referencing the 15 Saturday games I also wanted to show that others are perhaps missing a share of their favourite pie.

        The only problem with crunching top 4 or 8 clashes is that it’s partially hindsight analysis given the draw is planned 20 rounds in advance – sinking Roosters, Rabbits, Manly last years Nine Nightmare.

        • Roar Guru

          October 27th 2016 @ 1:28pm
          Epiquin said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Hey JH. Great read. You can’t have an even spread of day and night games because each team is different. The Cowboys can only play home at night due to heat, and Canberra home games in Winter don’t lend themselves to night.

          • Roar Guru

            October 27th 2016 @ 1:52pm
            Jason Hosken said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            Thanks for the kind words Epiquin – full marks to Paddy and his team for accommodating the lengthy data set too.

            Mate, I understand where you’re coming from but I’m still keen on a viewing a 2pm Darwin kick-off!!

          • October 27th 2016 @ 4:37pm
            Griffo said | October 27th 2016 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

            That just reminded me of the 2008 world cup game between the Kangaroos and Kumuls in Townsville which was played on a Sunday afternoon. The Kangaroos dominated (I think 46-6) but the Kumuls hit hard and it was in the November heat. Never before have I seen a team that won so comprehensively look so stuffed after the game.

            Having said all that, playing during the day in June or July might be a bit warm (it may not be) but it can be done, however to give our regional fans max travelling time (all day Saturday and all day Sunday) the Saturday night time slot is the best.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 27th 2016 @ 11:44am
      Flat White said | October 27th 2016 @ 11:44am | ! Report

      I made this point over in another article re: Storm home games this year. Despite the Storm’s home ground average being pretty good compared to Sydney based teams, it could definitely improve by having a more favourable draw for League fans.

      Round 1 – Storm v Dragons, AAMI Park – Monday 7 March, 7pm – Monday night game, hard to get to.
      Round 2 – Storm v Titans, AAMI Park – Sunday 13 March, 6:30pm – 6:30pm on a Sunday was billed as family day, didn’t really finish at a family friendly time

      Round 5 – Storm v Knights, AAMI Park – Saturday 2 April, 3pm – bottom four team
      Round 6 – Storm v Bulldogs, AAMI Park – Monday 11 April, 7pm – Monday night game, hard to get to.

      Round 8 – Storm v Warriors, AAMI Park – Monday 25 April, 7pm – Monday night game, hard to get to.

      Round 13 – Storm v Panthers, AAMI Park, Saturday 4 June, 7:30pm – Origin players out

      Round 16 – Storm v Tigers, AAMI Park, Sunday 26 June, 4pm – bottom four team

      Round 20 – Storm v Roosters, AAMI Park, Saturday 23 July, 7:30pm – bottom four team

      Round 22 – Storm v Rabbitohs, AAMI Park – TBA

      Round 25 – Storm v Broncos, AAMI Park – TBA
      Round 26 – Storm v Sharks, AAMI Park – TBA

      I attended the last 5 games of the year at AAMI park and they were all 15K plus attendances, great atmosphere and great games. Maybe I’m whinging a little but I don’t believe Storm supporters in Melbourne received a great draw.

      • October 27th 2016 @ 3:15pm
        Edward Webeck said | October 27th 2016 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

        To be fair april 25th is Anzac Day against the warriors and always gets a big crowd so I wouldn’t call it hard to get too. On the other hand the NRL need to prioritize more friendly timeslots for the storm when they play big sydney teams.

        • Roar Rookie

          October 27th 2016 @ 3:48pm
          Flat White said | October 27th 2016 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          Truth. I was at that game also. They quite obviously have the AFL to contend with, but they’ll have a much better chance of getting bums on seats if Milford, Thurston, Barba, Inglis and the like are coming down and playing in prime time timeslots.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 27th 2016 @ 12:10pm
      Hard Yards said | October 27th 2016 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

      Friday night always has done well at Brookvale Oval. It’s a bit of Northern Beaches cultural thing. All the local teenagers use it as the venue to socialise with each other and keep an eye out for romantic opportunities.

      • Roar Guru

        October 27th 2016 @ 12:25pm
        Jason Hosken said | October 27th 2016 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        Full house Friday’s are awesome at Brooky and usually compliment on field success. The players often talk passionately about packed sunny Sunday arvos and they’re certainly my preference – and the teenies love a sunset smooch all the same.

    • Roar Guru

      October 27th 2016 @ 1:33pm
      Epiquin said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

      Great article JH. It’s refreshing to see sensible analysis based on figures, without drawing outlandish conclusions. I’m sick of everyone blindly complaining that “crowds are disappearing in droves,” “crowds are dying because everyone hates ANZ Stadium,” “take the game back to suburban grounds and crowds will follow” when the results tell a different story. You’ve done the analysis and made sensible conclusions without falling into the trap of believing correlation is causation.

      • Roar Guru

        October 27th 2016 @ 1:46pm
        Jason Hosken said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

        Thanks Epic. While each club has unique circumstances I reckon there’s scope for change. Like, Canberra isn’t Arctic in the first 6-8 rounds, perhaps more sunny days for the burbs.

        As a Bear, are you able to shed any light on Gosford. Great stadium, be a shame if it becomes soccer only?

        • Roar Guru

          October 27th 2016 @ 3:34pm
          Epiquin said | October 27th 2016 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

          I wish I did. At this stage I can’t see it getting a full time tenant unless another sydney club folds or relocates. Obviously my heart is with the Bears, but I think the Tigers are desperate for an identity at the moment and could do well to call the place home.

    • October 27th 2016 @ 1:48pm
      MAX said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

      Thank you Jason for one of the most enlightening articles of the year.
      Cleared the air with the plain facts.

      • Roar Guru

        October 27th 2016 @ 1:56pm
        Jason Hosken said | October 27th 2016 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        Too nice MAX. Glad you enjoyed it.

    , ,