To its credit, the NRL has been one of the first sports in the world to navigate its way out of CV-19 and resume games (albeit to empty stadiums) and also land itself a new broadcast deal.
However, new research has found that TV viewer numbers are down over the past four years, with the under 25s particularly losing interest.
Research bu Roy Morgan has found large drops among younger age groups. Just 20 per cent of Australians aged under 25 watch the NRL on TV – down nine percentage points from 2016, and just 21 per cent of 25-34 year olds watch the sport on TV – down an even larger 10 per cent points.
TV Viewership of the NRL by age group 2020 cf. 2016
TV viewership of the NRL has held up better amongst older age groups with 36 per cent of 50-64 year olds, 32 per cent of 65-plus year olds and 31 per cent of 35-49 year olds watching. Even so, figures for each of these three age groups are down five per cent points on four years ago.
The largest TV audiences for the NRL are its marquee events – and there are none larger than the annual battle between NSW and Queensland, the State of Origin. Almost 3.7 million Australians say they almost always watch coverage of the series, and a further 1.5 million occasionally watch.
Unsurprisingly TV viewership of the NRL is concentrated in its ‘heartland’ States of NSW and Queensland. Nearly three-quarters of those who watch NRL on TV are in either NSW/ACT (46 per cent) or Queensland (28 per cent). One-in-six NRL TV viewers are in Victoria and the remaining 10 per cent are spread between WA, SA, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
However, Roy Morgan’s industry communications director Julian McCrann says the NRL’s earlier than expected re-start is a boon to the code’s broadcasters and to advertisers keen to be associated with some live sporting content.
“The NRL has outdone rival football codes including the AFL, Super Rugby and the A-League with its resumption in late May, giving rugby league a clear run at viewer attention.
“Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’Landys’ is a controversial figure but his hard work has given the NRL and its sixteen clubs a chance to ‘own’ the domestic sporting landscape over the next two weeks. This is welcome news for a code that has dealt with many off-field scandals in recent years and has experienced declining TV viewership across all age groups since 2016.
“The NRL’s declining TV viewership is most apparent amongst younger viewers, aged under 35. TV viewership of the NRL amongst younger Australians has dropped to around one-in-five – down from nearly one-in-three as recently as 2016.
“Overall this important demographic comprises around 25 per cent of the 6 million NRL TV viewers. A further 25% are aged 35-49 while around half are now aged in the 50-plus age bracket. For the NRL to turn around the decline in TV viewership it’s vital to find a way to re-engage this audience,” Mc Crann said.
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