An analysis of broadcasting and attendance in the Australian football industry

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This thesis explores the commercial elements of broadcasting and match attendance within the Australian football industry. Existing literature surrounding Australian sport broadcasting was identified as largely conceptual by nature, with a corresponding gap in practical discussion and application. A potential lack of access to appropriate data was identified as accounting for this gap, which was addressed in this thesis through collaboration with the NRL and its research partner, Repucom International. As such, this thesis marks one of the first attempts to utilise an exhaustive quantitative dataset to explore broadcast ratings and attendances in an Australian sport context. An inductive research approach, utilising a multiple case study design, was adopted to resolve the main research aim and goals. Specifically, the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) formed the central cases of analysis. The sample period spanned five seasons, from 2007 to 2011, and encapsulated a total of 2,297 fixtures. Television ratings data, incorporating an array of geographic and demographic variables, was originally sourced from research firms OzTAM and Regional TAM, while attendance data was created through in-house NRL reconciliation against stadium figures and publicly available information. Results indicated a demarcation of viewer loyalty to each code based on geographic boundaries, consistent with the existing notion of “the Barassi line”. Both codes were shown to be largely reliant on traditional markets for driving television viewership figures, with little evidence to suggest either code expanded its national reach during the period, despite vastly contrasting broadcast strategies. A gender imbalance in viewership was also identified. However, this was shown to be potentially smaller than the pre-existing academic and societal conception of a stereotypical football audience would suggest. The study also found there to be disparity in the levels of intra-club broadcast coverage in both leagues, which was likely to impact the value of respective club sponsorships. While broadcasters illustrated a preference for specific teams, selections were largely justified on the basis of audience ‘pulling power’, which was shown to vary between clubs in both leagues. Stemming from the key findings and corresponding discussion, the thesis provided a significant contribution to the literature. The practical, quantitative nature of the research not only advanced existing conceptual research, but also provided a basis from which further research and discussion can be facilitated.
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