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I got up this morning and made a pot of tea. After drinking the tea and drying out and scattering the leaves on the dining room table, I read the leaves.
This is my reading of the tea leaves about which code this century has grown the most this century.
The stand out winner is eSports, from almost unheard of to filling out stadiums and huge online viewership.
Of the more traditional sports, football is the easy winner. At the start of the century football had the oldest national competition, but had crowds averaging under 4, 000 9take out Perth Glory and 3,000 would be lucky). Little media coveerage and what media there was incredibly negative, the national body could not afford to bring out the Socceroos and the code was heading into bankruptcy.
Today we have a ten team national league, two more sides joining soon, a second division starting in 2020 and 15 teams wanting to join the A-League, not forgetting the FFA Cup and the success of the national teams.
As a special, I have attached a link to a recent ABC podcast from the late 90s which gave a reasonable look at football at the time.
Netball is a challenge to football and I could see some say it has had the biggest growth, from almost nothing to a national competition with an FTA broadcast contract on 9.
Cricket since 2000 has had a fall in interest at the Test level and ODIs made massive gains with Twenty20 cricket. Recently signed media deals with Fox and Channel 7 will keep cricket popular simply by media exposure. Additionally, the rise of India as a world power will help power cricket, especially newer versions.
Rugby league, or the NRL are arguably the comeback kings. In the late 80s and early 90s the then ARL had grown to 21 teams with further expansion in the wings. At this time the highest rating code and under the stewardship of John Quale and Ken Aurtherson. In the mid 90s a media war between Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch tore the game apart.
Honestly, it’s a tribute to those running the game it did not fall apart. David Gallop was brought in and started a recovery process. Gallop made a name for himself in not only holding the game together, but managing to ensure TV deals and rebuild ratings.
Since 2000 the NRL has introduced Test matches against Pacific Island Nations. However, it’s difficult to see rugby league recovering to anywhere near the position it held in the early 90s.
I can’t see rugby league in its homeland states holding off competition forever and can see the expansion of football to challenge rugby league, especially in Sydney.
Rugby union is by far the biggest loser with crowds and rating in the gutter, from the best ratings per match on Fox and crowds averaging over 25K per match as a code its been losing market share and looks to be in a terminal decline.
AFL peaked around 2008 to 2012. AFL is what marketers call in the mature phase of the product cycle in its southern states heartland. Marketers would say its difficult maybe near impossible to hold existing market shares in the southern states.
The competition from football, league, maybe union will make take market share in the southern states.
Thus, there is a need for growth in the Northern States. However, without a Super League war and corrupt, inept and bankrupt football, there is no free kick and GWS and the Gold Coast are struggling. Thus, the need to bring in women’s AFL, and a newer version of the game.
In closing, this has been about only growth this century, not the relative overall strengths or otherwise of the various codes.
To answer the question posed in the headline, here they are in order: eSports, football, netball, cricket, rugby league, AFL and rugby union.