With the NRL and AFL seasons winding up, sports fans in Australia can tune into the NFL on 7Mate, with two or three games shown live in HD on Monday mornings. Jarryd Hayne’s successful transformation is another reason to watch a sport that boasts 32 teams divided into two leagues, and enormous attendances in state-of-the-art venues. Here in Australia, the AFL and NRL dominate over the winter months culminating in a Grand Final that pits the two best teams against each other. But how do the AFL and NRL seasons pan out, and can their respective Grand Finals compete with the almighty Superbowl?
The NRL and AFL seasons are similar in length, with the 16-team NRL competition playing a 26-round season, before a top 8 finals system plays out over three weeks with the two remaining teams playing in the Grand Final. This takes place at ANZ Stadium, a colossal, ageing behemoth that seats 83,500, but rarely justifies this capacity. In fact only twice during a season will a crowd of around 80,000 actually be in attendance. Crowds of around 15,000 are not uncommon for a regular season game, making for a pretty tame atmosphere.
The AFL, on the other hand, is an 18-team competition, played out over a 23-round regular season and can truly boast being a national game, with teams in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. They also have a top 8 finals system with the two remaining teams playing in the Grand Final. Unlike the NRL, the AFL has a reason to use a great stadium. Crowds of over 50,000, and crowds of up to 100,000 for the Grand Final flock to the MCG making it the best sporting venue in Australia. It’s hard to say why the AFL gets bigger crowds, but I’d put it down to better management by those in charge, and the fact their main stadium is easily accessible, whereas ANZ Stadium is only easy to get to if you live next door.
So now we have an idea of how the two sports play out over the regular season, but I want to take a closer look at the Grand Final and compare how the day pans out between the AFL and NRL.
In the AFL, they have a much bigger stadium in the MCG, with a capacity of 100,000. It is easily accessible by public transport and within walking distance from Melbourne’s CBD. There is a traditional Grand Final parade through Melbourne to the ground, giving fans great access to players and creating a wonderful atmosphere in the city. On gameday, the Grand Final kicks off at around 2:20pm, and is finished by around 5:00pm. Pre-game entertainment is usually tame and forgettable, but you have to feel sorry for the acts. They are on a hiding to nothing, playing in a cavernous arena to fans who forked out big bucks to watch a game of football, not listen to some ageing rocker play a couple of songs. The 2011 performance by Meatloaf was particularly bad.
The NRL has a different Grand Final preparation, with the 2015 launch of NRL Nation, a free event with activities, player appearances and entertainment spreading over the three days in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, leading up to the Grand Final on the Sunday. The day itself is a triple header, with the Holden Cup under 20’s Grand Final followed by the State Championship, which has the winners of the NSW Cup and QLD Cup Grand Finals play each other, and then the NRL Grand Final at 7:15pm. You may be a little drained by the time the NRL Grand Final kicks off, but it is a great build up, with plenty of passion and emotion on display in the earlier games, something the AFL doesn’t boast. Pre-game entertainment is limited to cringe worthy acts like Jessica Mauboy.
But how does the AFL and NRL Grand Finals compare with the NFL Superbowl?
Quite simply they don’t compare, as the Superbowl is in a league of its’ own with huge sums of money spent on the event. How does $4 Million for a 30 second commercial sound? The 2014 Superbowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos (won convincingly 43-8 by the Seahawks) featured a crowd of 82,529 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. That’s actually comparable to the Australian sports mentioned here, with the 2014 AFL decider between Hawthorn and Sydney boasting a crowd of 99,460, while the NRL decider between the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs attracted a crowd of 83,833. Where the NFL wins out is in TV viewership, with an average audience of 111.5 million viewers. At the famous halftime show, this became 115.3 million viewers. But like the AFL and NRL, there is always a forgettable performance on the big stage, and in 2004 ‘Boobgate’ became an instant hit.