It’s official. EKAS Market Research’s latest survey reveals that paid TV platforms and their rich sporting ecosystems are convincing increasing numbers of Aussie sports fans to hand over their hard earned. Today more than 55% of Aussies watch sport behind a paywall, while there are 80% of us who watch sport on free to air TV.

And it’s the AFL and NRL – Australia’s blue chip football codes – along with cricket and tennis, that are leading the way. All four sports now attract a higher percentage of viewers on pay TV and streaming services than on free to air TV (although more people in total still watch these sports on free to air TV).

Elsewhere, in terms of gender-balanced viewing, tennis was revealed to be the bona fide darling of our sporting pantheon. It’s the only blue chip sport with a major sponsorship deal – Channel 9 paid $60 million per year to air the Australian Open from 2020 to 2024 – that attracts a roughly even number of both male and female viewers.

And where broadcast deals are concerned, it is fast becoming a genuine case of the haves and have-nots across the Australian sporting landscape. While AFL, NRL, cricket and tennis are prized by broadcasters, several other sports are either shunted to secondary free to air (FTA) channels or shown only as replays well outside prime time.

The current picture: sports on FTA channels vs pay TV and streaming services

Confirmation of what we already knew perhaps, but Australia is a nation of sports junkies. When polled on their free to air sporting viewership, 44.3% said they were regular watchers, 36.2% said they occasionally watched and less than a fifth (19.5%) said they never watched sports. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 60.5% of males described themselves as regular watchers of FTA sport, 28.9% said they watched occasionally and just 10.6% said they never did so. Nearly three quarters of Aussie women consider themselves sports fans too though, with 32.1% regular viewers, 41.7% occasional viewers and just 26.2% eschewing the spectacle.

Behind the paywall, it appears that the development of consistent, high quality content is enticing new fans. On Foxtel, the AFL and NRL both have dedicated channels, while last year’s cricket rights deal now sees every Big Bash fixture – of which there were 59 last summer – screened on the network. 

Today, 30.1% of Australians are regular viewers of sport on pay TV or streaming services (45.4% male, 18.3% female), 25% are occasional viewers (19.2% male, 29.3% female) and 44.9% do not consume sport via these paid platforms (35.4% male, 52% female).

Bums on seats

In terms of attending live sport it’s Australia’s two biggest football codes – with their lengthy 22 and 26 round seasons – that draw most fans. When asked which sports they have attended in the last year, AFL matches attracted 28.3% of respondents and NRL games 25%. Our national pastime of cricket drew 22.2%, while 19.5% turn up for the tennis.

Attendances at sports outside the big four of AFL, NRL, cricket and tennis are considerably smaller – also reflected in their on-screen viewership (highlighted in the next section). 


Which sports are grabbing the eyeballs?

One of the more interesting findings across the myriad of screens is that tennis has comfortably the closest gender mix of viewers. It’s an alignment of spectatorship that reflects the virtual parity between the men’s and women’s game at the highest level. 

On FTA TV tennis is viewed by 32.9% of Australians, (33.5% male, 32.4% female), while cricket draws 28.5%, AFL 25.2% and NRL 21.5%. Across the latter three sports there’s a distinct skew towards male viewers – more than 10% higher numbers in each instance.

Swimming sees an inversion. Overall 18.9% of Aussies watch pool-based action on FTA TV, but more women switch on than men (21% to 16%). Super Netball draws just 6.1% of us, but again with more female viewers tuning in (9% to 2%).

Elsewhere on FTA TV, soccer attracts 16.3% of viewers, Super Rugby 14.2%, golf 11.2%, A-League 9.8%, NBL (basketball) 9.6% and AFLW 7.7% (with slightly more males than females watching – 10% to 7%). Just over a quarter of those surveyed (25.8%) watch none of these sports.


Where subscription TV and streaming services are concerned, sport is an even more significant factor in viewership terms.

Foxtel’s recent cricket broadcasting coup (which saw it and Network 7 splash $1.2 billion over six years) has seen the network gain a large piece of the action, and consequently 38.8% of those surveyed now watch the game on pay TV or streaming services. 

Next is tennis (37.6% – with exactly 37.6% of both genders watching), AFL (36.8%), NRL (33.7%), swimming (17.3% with 21% female viewers to 13% male), Super Rugby (15.4%) and golf (13.8%). In what might be a concern for local administrators, the A-League, with 13.2% viewership trails English Premier League and world soccer, which draws 14.6% of us. 

Across paid platforms only a few sports attract less than 10% viewership – NBL (basketball) draws 8.3%, AFLW 5.9% and netball 5.3%. AFLW, despite only being a few years in existence, has already surpassed netball viewership. And with the AFL spruiking further investment in the women’s game, it’s likely to continue to capture more eyeballs in the years ahead. 

One final revealing figure around the importance of sport for pay TV and streaming services is this: less than a quarter (23.6%) of respondents watch no sport via these platforms.  


The rise of streaming and paid platforms

It’s well documented that the last five years have seen an explosion in paid subscriptions for TV platforms in Australia. From a zero-base five years ago our survey suggests Netflix is now in 51% of Aussie households, while Foxtel is in the abodes of 36% of respondents. Local streaming upstart Stan has 16% penetration, Fetch 8.6%, sports-oriented streaming service Kayo 8%, and Apple TV 5.5%. It’s a sign of the times that today just 28.5% of Aussies have no subscription or pay TV of any kind.

Arguably less surprising is that uptake rates with new streaming services are highest with tech-savvy youngsters. For instance, 79% of 18-24 year olds and 73% of 25-34 year olds have a Netflix subscription, while 57% of 18-24 year olds and 44% of 25-34 year olds have Foxtel – although it seems a fair assumption that many of these respondents are including a family home subscription. 

For the sports mad, Kayo seems to be making an impact with the youngsters too. Its $25 a month offering has enticed 29% of 18-24 year olds and 17% of 25-34 year olds. 

Generally speaking, as the age brackets rise from younger to older, streaming services decline in uptake. Only 9% of 18-24 year olds have no pay TV or streaming services, while 46% of 65+ respondents said the same.

On the flipside 64.2% said a sports-driven streaming service wasn’t for them, with 53.7% of males and 72.1% of females voting this way. Willingness to take such a subscription up ran highest in the younger age demographics.

For those without a streaming service, an additional sports focus is creating some desire to join the party. When asked whether additional access to sport would encourage them to subscribe, roughly 35.8% say they are amenable to taking up a subscription (with 46.3% of males and 27.9% of females agreeing). 


Total recall?

Australia’s lesser viewed sports could potentially benefit from a marketing blitz if EKAS’s latest survey is anything to go by. 

When polled on which sport Suncorp was the major sponsor of, only 14.7% correctly selected (or guessed) Super Netball. Some 10.2% plumped for Super Rugby, 2.4% for A-League, 1.4% for AFLW, 1.2% for NBL (basketball) and 0.9% for Swimming Australia. The other 69% confessed to not knowing which sport Suncorp sponsored. 

Similarly, networks may also need to up their marketing of more niche sports codes. In total, 70.9% of respondents admitted they had no idea who the broadcaster of Australia’s top basketball league – the NBL – was going to be when it tips off again in October.

Just 9.1% answered correctly that it is SBS, whilst a further 9.3% thought it was former broadcaster Network 10, 6.3% thought Channel 9 had the rights and 3.3% selected Channel 7, while just 1.2% guessed the ABC. 

Interestingly, the recall rate for both these questions strongly favoured males. There were 14% who knew basketball was headed to SBS next year compared to just 6% of females. As for Suncorp’s big sporting play, 17% of males identified Super Netball compared to 13% of females – this despite females far outnumbering male viewers of the sport.

Ekas Research
Ekas Research