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Latest TV numbers illustrate Super Rugby's shocking decline in Australia

Waratahs’ Jed Holloway

Rugby union is continuing to struggle for viewership numbers against rival football codes in Australia despite an increase in Super Rugby viewers, according to latest TV figures.


The most recent Oztam ratings, obtained by Fairfax, show that Australian Super Rugby viewership figures trail behind football’s A-League and pale in comparison to rugby league’s NRL and Australian football’s AFL, providing further reasoning for broadcasters to push for change in the next broadcast cycle.

The figures, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, show that Super Rugby matches had an average audience of 71,000 in Australia, a nine per cent uplift from the 2017 season.

That in itself is a promising statistic, and it illustrates the improvements made by Australian franchises in that timeframe.

All five sides in the competition at the time struggled immensely against the New Zealand teams and the Lions, which culminated in the controversial culling of the Western Force.

Since then, the Waratahs and Rebels have made vast improvements results-wise, while the Brumbies remain play-off contenders.

However, further Oztam ratings show that figure plummeted in the metropolitan cities, attracting a pay audience of just 50,000 viewers, leaving Super Rugby just behind the A-League’s 51,000, and well astray from the NRL’s 164,000 and the AFL’s 167,000.


As for free-to-air television, the NRL and AFL both had audiences in excess of 300,000 per match, while the A-League attracted an average figure of 50,000 via it’s one match per week on Channel 10.

Super Rugby’s numbers were further depleted when the competition’s overseas matches in New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan were factored in, attracting a measly 23,000 viewers per match.

These concerning figures for a competition once considered the crown jewel of Fox Sports will undoubtedly trouble Rugby Australia administrators as they enter negotiations for a new Super Rugby broadcast deal from 2021 onwards.

Such numbers also provides a compelling case for Rugby Australia officials to throw their support behind World Rugby’s proposed League of Nations concept, whereby the world’s governing body would sell rights to broadcast a global test-level competition for more than any international union could negotiate for a one-off test or test series.


Leaders from tier one nations and World Rugby officials met in Los Angeles last month to discuss the prospect of this competition, and World Rugby’s next scheduled meeting next month is expected to generate an initial concept and broadcast estimates for the involved nations.

Australian sources have confirmed an English news report stating that such a deal could see $18 million worth of revenue fill each country’s coffers each year, exponentially more than what Rugby Australia could muster with provincial and domestic competitions, such as Super Rugby.

There are still creases that need to be ironed out before the competition can come to fruition, though, with concerns that an annual global tournament could dilute the quality and integrity of the quadrennial World Cup tournament.

Other concerns include what percentage of the revenue World Rugby would keep for themselves, given they are the organisation brokering the talks.


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