TV Audience Numbers grow for Rugby Union

A couple of things happened on Saturday night:

  1. The QANTAS Wallabies won their first Tri Nations tournament since 2001, by overcoming the All Blacks at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium; and
  2. Over 1 million viewers tuned into see that win.

Over the last few years it is arguable that there has been a decline in viewers for Rugby Union in Australia. This no doubt coincided with the poor performances of the national team and probably contributed to the Seven Network’s decision not to renew their free-to-air Rugby Union rights, despite the 2003 Rugby World Cup final seeing 4.016 million viewers tuning in to watch England beat the Wallabies. This year Nine has taken up the free-to-air broadcasting duties after announcing a couple of years ago that it had bought the broadcast rights along with FOX SPORTS to the 2011 & 2015 IRB Rugby World Cups.

The match between the QANTAS Wallabies v All Blacks was available to viewers across Australia on FOX SPORTS 3 & 3HD, live on the Nine Network in Sydney & Brisbane; and live in Southern States on Nine‘s digital HD Channel GEM. The cumulative Metro FTA audience for Nine & GEM on Saturday along with FOX SPORTS’ coverage was 1,125,000 viewers.

The breakdown of the figures was as follows:

  1. FOX SPORTS428,000 viewers
  2. Channel Nine606,000 viewers (live only in Sydney & Brisbane)
  3. GEM91,000 viewers (live only in Southern States)

This will be positive news for the ARU ahead of the World Cup, as Rugby Union is returning to the viewer’s mind.

Nine‘s combined audience figure (i.e. including GEM) put its coverage as the #5 most watched program for Saturday night in all people behind Seven News, Nine News, ABC News and the movie on Seven, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. This is a good result for the network, who has adopted hybrid coverage for its rugby broadcasts. Under the last FTA agreement, Seven used its own commentary team led by the voice of rugby Gordon Bray to cover the Tests, including its own graphics package, overlaid  on a clean feed from the host broadcaster, FOX SPORTS.

This year, Nine has adopted a different approach with its coverage anchored by Ken Sutcliffe from a Sydney Studio, whilst on the ground is Wide World of Sports reporter Tim Sheridan. The network for match coverage then switches to FOX SPORTS’ dirty feed meaning Nine takes FOX SPORTS’ commentators and graphic packages. Nine have not yet published its Rugby World Cup coverage details so it will be interesting to see how they cover this big event, whether relying on FOX SPORTS’ commentators or taking the International Feed from SKY SPORTS NZ, who are the host broadcaster for the International tournament.

Speaking of FOX SPORTS its coverage as noted above generated 428,000 viewers on Saturday night. According to Australia’s Sports Leader the Test Match was the highest rating Rugby Test Match in subscription television history and the third most-watched program ever on subscription television, behind this year’s Super Rugby Final (531,000 viewers) and the FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Australia and Uzbekistan in April 2009 (431,000 viewers).

Commenting on the result for the subscription broadcaster, FOX SPORTS CEOPatrick Delany said:

“Saturday night’s match was fantastic entertainment. It had us on the edge of our seats for the entire 80 minutes and there’s nothing better than watching it without the interference of ads during play.”

“It’s given us an expectation that we’re in for a spectacular Rugby World Cup and the Wallabies are a huge shot at winning a third title. This is the biggest event on the planet this year, and Australians deserve the best television coverage.”

If the good results for the QANTAS Wallabies continue it appears that both FOX SPORTS and Nine are on a winner with International Test Rugby on their respective networks.

FOX SPORTS it appears is the biggest winner out of Saturday night’s result. The subscription television broadcaster is receiving greater coverage and brand awareness, thanks to Nine using FOX SPORTS’ feed for QANTAS Wallabies Test Matches. To put FOX SPORTS’ strong result into perspective its average audience of 428,000 was 61.40% of Nine + GEM’s combined audience of 697,000. This is despite FOXTEL/AUSTAR having only around a 32-34% penetration rate of homes in Australia (according to Paul Budde Communications) verses Digital HDTV which according to OZTAM Figures from 6 August 2011 is at 87% penetration for a 5-city metro market average.

This shows that subscription television can generate strong audience numbers that compete with the free-to-air networks, despite having around only a 1/3 of Australian households with pay-TV. FOXTEL/AUSTAR and FOX SPORTS will be hoping its new AFL rights deal, along with local programming and international exclusives continue to drive subscription take-up, in this ever increasingly competitive digital media environment.

It will be interesting to see viewer numbers from upcoming Rugby World Cup matches that Nine and FOX SPORTS jointly broadcast and whether a FOX SPORTS broadcast will achieve higher audience numbers than Nine’s broadcast.

NOTE: Nine + GEM’s regional audience figures were not available .


Fox Sports


Paul Budde Communication



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