The figures behind the footy

It’s the time of year when Australia goes football crazy. After the Hawks’ AFL grand final win, the Dogs take on the Rabbitohs for the NRL premiership on Sunday. Adrian Fernandes looks at emma data to discover the clubs fans love most.

Infographic_AFL V NRLOne down, one to go.

Sports fans are in heaven with the grand finals of the two biggest winter codes, Australian Football League and National Rugby League, held on consecutive weekends.

In pubs and clubs, fans have their annual argument about which code is better. It’s a debate that has no answer but emma data can settle the score on the code closest to Aussie hearts.

AFL Rules, OK?

AFL has biggest fan base. Some 6.3 million Australians aged 14+ support an AFL club, or 35 percent of the population. Women make up 41 percent of these supporters.

The Sydney Swans – still South Melbourne for Victorian diehards with long memories – has the biggest fan base with 1.1m supporters, of whom a third live outside NSW.

Hawthorn has a greater percentage of out-of-state fans, its 48 percent figure boosted by marketing activities in Tasmania.

The highest percentage of out-of-state fans (48%) belongs to silvertails, Carlton.

Victoria, the home of AFL, is the epicentre of the sport with 2.5m (37%) followers.

Working-class Collingwood – the mighty Magpies – has the most supporters (740,000) of all Victoria-based clubs, followed by Geelong (693,000). The average supporter base is 420,000 fans.

A League of Their Own

According to emma, Rugby League has 4.7m followers and boasts the best supported club in the country – the Brisbane Broncos (1.2m fans). One in three are female, the same ratio as NRL fans overall (37%).

The Grand Final this year pitches the two of the most passionately supported teams against each other – the South Sydney Rabbitohs (520,000 fans) and the Dogs of Canterbury-Bankstown (305,000 fans).

Enemies at the Gates

NRL and AFL battle each other on several fronts – TV licensing dollars, crowd numbers and the hearts of children whose passion for playing a particular sport at an early age often dictates loyalties in later life.

In Melbourne, AFL teams report a 10 percent decline in gate receipts while the city’s NRL team, the Melbourne Storm, increased its attendance figures. In Sydney, The Roosters and Rabbitohs have seen gates drop while the Swans grew their crowds.*

emma data also provides insight into the size of the sporting market.

Some 2.5 million Australians aged 14+ attended an AFL game this season, making it the highest attended code. NRL is third on the list with 1.1m fans attending a game, slightly lagging the 1.4m who went to the cricket.

Sports Sections Break the Code

Supporters look to newspaper sports sections to keep them informed. Almost 5 million Australians read a sports section of a print newspaper every week – with a gender split 60:40 in favour of men.

Weekends are peak time for sport section readership as sports fans search for pre- and post- game analysis. Saturday sports sections reach of 2.2 million readers while Sunday sports sections have an average readership of 2.6 million.

This is a huge pool of highly engaged readers, and prime advertising territory. This is especially true for sport sponsors who understand that gaining the maximum benefit from their sponsorship requires creating relevant ads that put their brand in front of fans.

As Giles Morgan, HSBC’s head of sponsorship & events puts it, “The reason we do sports is about the engagement of certain demographics and we’ve arrived at a very strong platform to spend time with customers…

“The reason why brands have long-term relationships with sponsorships is because they work.”**

Join The Club

This potential is well understood, which is why sports sponsorship is worth billions of dollars.  Ads leveraging these sponsorships, creating links between their brand and the sponsorship, can regularly be seen in newspaper media.

For example, Volkswagon ran a clever print campaign in Sydney to promote their sponsorship of the Swans.


Internet provider, iiNet, promoted their sponsorship of the Hawks in The Weekend Australian on Grand Final day with the following execution.


While sponsorships are powerful, ads on sports pages don’t need a sporting angle to take advantage of the environment. Internet provider, TPG, used the back page of The Daily Telegraph recently to promote their latest bundling deal.


Sports pages are a fantastic place for brands to gain further traction with their sponsorship deals. They’re also a great place for brands to promote their latest offerings to a large, engaged audience, whether its sports related or not.


** Building long-term relationships with sponsorship: Insights from HSBC, Visa and Chelsea Football Club, Low Lai Chow, Warc Event Reports: Sponsorship Matters Singapore, May 2014

Infographic_AFL V NRL


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