Rugby league the winner as NRL ratings battle kicks off

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 10 March 2016

The ratings battle between Nine and Fox Sports over rugby league coverage has begun, but the winner so far is the code and its fans.

Combined ratings across both broadcasters for the first round of the competition increased by 11% compared to last season.

This year, Fox Sports has ramped up its coverage and will show every game live. Nine director of sport Tom Malone tells AdNews that Fox Sports will pay Nine $20 million and must run eight minutes of Nine's advertising each round as part of re-negotiated rights deal.

Compared to last season, Nine's round one ratings in the two most important markets were down in Sydney and up in Brisbane, but ratings can vary depending on the teams playing. The drop in Sydney for average ratings was 19% to 346,954 on Thursday, 5% to 330,414 on Friday and 15% to 223,033 on Sunday.

In Brisbane, Thursday night footy increased by 8% to 257,004, Friday night footy fell 17% to 118,616 and Sunday increased 12% to 98,425.

“We're really happy with the ratings in round one - down a little bit in Sydney, up a little bit in Brisbane - but that's a strong result given the matches that were played,” Malone says.

“It's three games live for us this season, which gives us more opportunity to commercialise what we are doing with pre-match and post-match shows for each match.”

Last season, Nine only had a pre-game show for its Friday night double-header and shows around its Sunday game. This year, with Thursday night footy a permanent fixture, Nine has pre-game and post-game shows on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, increasing the commercial opportunity.

Malone believes Fox Sport's beefed up coverage of every game live may have a minor impact on Nine's ratings, but the free-to-air broadcaster was getting a good deal with the money recouped from Fox Sports and extra advertising minutes.

“There's 11% more viewers across Fox Sports and Nine, and Fox Sports is running eight minutes of Nine's ads. Nine's also getting $20 million a year for the fourth game, which is part of the re-negotiated rights deal.”

For Fox Sports, the first round produced strong ratings, with an average audience of 274,000 across the exclusive matches it showed. Fox Sports had its highest-rating Thursday game with an audience of 219,000. There was also strong audiences for the Saturday clash between the Cowboys and Sharks with 365,000.

“To explode out of the blocks and record such a strong opening round for our first weekend of broadcasting every game live is a fantastic result,” Fox Sports CEO Patrick Delaney says.

“We know fans love our coverage and now they will get to watch every game of every round, live with no ad breaks during play and in high definition following 2015’s historic broadcast deal.”

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