Who’s watching the Grand Final? Home teams and foul-weather friends

Who’s watching the Grand Final? Home teams and foul-weather friends

Tony Ward

Who’d have thought the TV ratings sensation for 2010 would be a cooking show?  Junior Masterchef attracted 2.2 million viewers on Sunday 12 September.  Overshadowed by its big brother in July – the final of Masterchef attracted 4 million viewers, making it the third most-watched show of the last decade.

Amongst such surprises, there is perhaps reassurance in the consistency of the AFL ratings.  Last year, 2.7 million people across our five major cities watched St Kilda and Geelong battle it out for the flag.

But surprises there are, buried in the hard-fought rucks of the Grand Finals.  Over the last ten years, ratings in each city across the country have varied considerably.

Viewer strength differs between cities.  Since 2000, 1.25 million Melburnians have typically watched the Grand Final each year – well ahead of the 430,000 Sydneysiders.  The other three major cities have each averaged around 350,000 viewers, though that is a smaller share of Brisbane’s population than for Adelaide or Perth.

The weather has an effect – but not always the expected one.   Certainly Perth viewers prefer clear Melbourne skies and an open running game rather than a dour struggle in the mud.  But the opposite happens in Melbourne and Adelaide, where viewer numbers climb as clouds gather and the temperature drops.  Last year’s rain and 11 degrees were dramatic contrast to the sunny 24 degrees for the 2008 Grand Final.  And in 2009 an extra 136,000 Melburnians stayed inside to watch the game.  Adelaide numbers were also well up.  Rather than fair-weather friends, it seems the Grand Final has a lot of foul-weather friends.

Contested struggles generally rate much better than one-way traffic.  Many viewers switch off after half time in one-sided Grand Finals such as Geelong-Port Adelaide in 2007.

But by far the biggest influence on the numbers is whether or not a home town team is in the Grand Final.  This is especially so away from the AFL’s heartland.  The Lions’ four years in the Final from 2001 to 2004 attracted an extra 190,000 Brisbane viewers each year. The two Sydney-West Coast tussles in 2005 and 2006 boosted TV audiences by an average 540,000 in Sydney and 240,000 in Perth.

Even in Melbourne and Adelaide, where there is more of a core audience for the game, the crowds grow for home teams.  Port Adelaide’s appearances in 2004 and 2007 gained 80,000 more viewers to Adelaide TVs.  A Melbourne or Geelong team in the Grand Final attracts 60,000 extra Melbourne viewers – with double that number if two local teams contest the premiership.

If we look beyond the impressive impacts of home teams, there is an even more surprising result.   Total viewer numbers have not changed much over the past ten years, despite the AFL’s national marketing.

There certainly have been ups and downs.  Only 2.2 million watched in 2000, when the Grand Final was played in early September to fit in with the Sydney Olympics.  The biggest ever TV ratings were 3.4 million in 2005 – very much due to massive local team audiences in Sydney and Perth. Indeed, the two Swans-Eagles Grand Finals were the only two to crack listings on the top dozen TV shows of the decade. But national viewer numbers were much the same in 2008 and 2009 as they were in 2001 and 2002.

So will we see bumper national television ratings for the 2010 Grand Final?  It’s doubtful – with Collingwood and St Kilda in the match, there won’t be record audiences in Sydney, Brisbane or Perth.  But the numbers should climb with a close contest – and climb further if we get a repeat of Melbourne’s cold and soggy 2009 weather.  But even the AFL may not have the connections to organise all of that.

Tony Ward’s Kicking Goals: Sport in Australian National Identity was published in March.


  1. Tony

    The weather forecast looks good for the Saints, but bad for the TV moguls.

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