Rugby remains No 1 with viewers in NZ

17:00, Sep 24 2012
Richie McCaw
HOT TICKET: A whopping 544,700 New Zealanders tuned in to watch Richie McCaw and the All Blacks play South Africa in Dunedin earlier this month.

For some unknown reason I have always been fascinated by TV ratings.

In a former life, a colleague of mine working in a research department had easy access to the previous night's audience data and would send a few sports-related titbits my way.

I'd generally send them to the New Zealand Rugby Union for their reaction on how rugby compared with other sports and they were always forthcoming, partly, I suspect, because this was back in 2005 and 2006 when rugby ratings were riding the crest of an incredible wave.

A Super Rugby match would regularly attract 500,000 viewers.

Big matches would pull in even more and compare favourably to TVNZ's 6pm news hour.

This was an impressive result for a pay TV platform and a source of considerable self-belief at rugby headquarters, and went some way to explaining their staggering arrogance when they pulled their All Blacks out of Super Rugby back in 2007.


Basically they felt they could push News Ltd around as they held all the power in the relationship.

I still have an email from a seething News Ltd employee which details their anger in regards to that decision - one the NZRU at the time tried to downplay.

Times have changed considerably since then.

Audience numbers have dropped markedly and have never recovered.

But one enduring trend remains.

Rugby remains king when it comes to attracting eyeballs to TV screens.

The All Blacks test against South Africa earlier this month attracted 544,700 viewers, a figure that stacks up well with any in recent years which is surprising given MySky has made analysing TV ratings a far more difficult and fraught exercise.

That figure does not include those who taped the game nor does it include those who watched it on Sky's free-to-air channel, Prime.

Add on another 200,000 and you're getting closer to the real number.

Even rugby's National Provincial Championship is faring pretty well.

While overall numbers have dropped off this season, which is no surprise given the dead zone some games are broadcast in, matches in primetime slots are still dragging in reasonable numbers.

Where things get interesting, and concerning for other sports, is when we compare the head-to-head clashes of the codes.

On September 1, couch potatoes had the option of either tuning into test cricket or NPC rugby. Viewers overwhelming selected the latter.

Football may be the most popular sport in the world but the All Whites' World Cup qualifier against the Solomon Islands tanked in the ratings this month, pulling in 53,400 viewers - only marginally more than the Waikato v Bay of Plenty rugby match which was broadcast at the exact same time.

Netball is the only other sport that can drag in more than 100,000 viewers.

But even the Silver Ferns' exciting first test win over Australia in the Constellation Cup on September 16 only just out-rated a routine NPC match between Southland and Hawke's Bay.

While rugby may not be everyone's cup of tea, it remains firmly entrenched as our No 1 sport in the eyes of most Kiwis.