Australian Sports Viewership: What is the Most Watched Sport in Australia?

Australia is well-known for its obsession with sport. From the various football codes in the winter to cricket in the summer, there is always something to watch in terms of professional sports, and for a country with a relatively small population, the viewership numbers of many major sporting codes are indicative of a nation with a deeply rooted love for sports of all kinds. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most watched sports in Australia.


Australian Rules Football

Although New South Wales and Queensland aren’t exactly renowned for their love for Aussie rules football, the rest of the states more than make up for it, and the sport finds its way to the top of this list as a result. In 2020, the last year for which full statistics are readily available, a massive 75.7 million people tuned into the AFL throughout the course of the season – over 4 million per round. 

With nine games played per round – with the exception of the three bye rounds in the middle of the season, in which just six games are played each weekend – this means that there are close to half a million people watching each and every game on average. Of course, the numbers would vary significantly from game to game – a Richmond vs Collingwood Friday night blockbuster would warrant significantly more attention than a Gold Coast vs North Melbourne game, for example – but the numbers for each individual game aren’t publicly available, so we’re stuck with the average. Regardless of which way you cut the data, however, for a country with less than 30 million people it’s a huge number of people consistently tuning into the sport. 

And come Grand Final Day, the sport and its top-tier league really demonstrates its popularity. Close to 4 million people tuned in to watch the Tigers win their third Premiership in four years, substantially more than any other sporting event in the country that year. Incredibly, the pre-game segments and the post-game segments of the AFL Grand Final that year also slotted into the top three as the most viewed shows – not just sports – of the year.

 The sport sits way out on top as the most watched sport in the country. Not only does it continually boast the most viewers throughout the course of the year, but the crown jewel of the sport – the AFL Grand Final – is regularly the most watched show of the year – and by some margin. One can only imagine the kind of viewership numbers that the AFL will ultimately get if it can break further into the market in the country’s most populous state in New South Wales, as well as Queensland – something the league is hoping sustained success from the four teams which now occupy those two states will help them to achieve.


Rugby League

While it might not get much attention in the aforementioned states in which Australian rules football is the primary focus, rugby league still puts plenty of bums on seats – or more aptly, couches – courtesy largely of its popularity in our most populous city. In 2020 the NRL went close to matching the AFL in terms of overall viewership, with 70.2 million watching games throughout the season – just over 5 million short of what the AFL managed. 

The NRL does have a couple of extra rounds than the AFL, but with only 16 teams compared to 18 in the AFL, there is one less game played per round. This difference results in six less games being played in the NRL than the AFL over the course of their respective home and away seasons, while each league has nine finals. This means, of course, that on a per game basis the NRL is even closer to the AFL than the overall viewership numbers suggest – not enough to make it the most watched sport in the country, but certainly sufficient to put it right on the heels of the AFL.

And like the other footballing code, the NRL does its best work on Grand Final Day. In 2020, a little under 3 million people tuned in to watch the Storm defeat the Panthers, around a million less than the AFL Grand Final but still enough to have it well and truly among the most watched shows in the country throughout the course of the year. 

There is also another factor which puts rugby league even closer to AFL in terms of total viewership – the presence of the State of Origin series. This three-game event is in the conversation with the NRL Grand Final as the most significant in the sport, and the passion so prevalent in the north eastern states when this series rolls around is plain to see. This is something for which the AFL doesn’t have an equivalent, and each year, all three games throughout the series are among the most watched programs in the country. In 2020, for example, just under 3 million watched the first two games, while that number ticked just over the 3 million mark for the deciding Game 3, in which Queensland crept over the line against their southern neighbours by just six points.



Tennis is a little different to the above two sports in the sense that viewership is largely concentrated around specific events, rather than a months-long league, and as a result the total time that fans spend watching the game is significantly less. However, there is still no shortage of fans tuning into the game throughout the course of the year, particularly when the Australian Open comes to town. 

During that two-week period, tennis is on free-to-air television for virtually every waking hour, and the number of viewers watching the finals puts them among the most watched sporting programs in the country. Typically well over 1 million viewers will tune into the final, with the thrilling five-setter in which Novak Djokovic beat Dominic Thiem in 2020 drawing 1.5 million viewers in total. The women’s final had lower viewer numbers when it was played the day prior, but still drew close to 1 million sets of eyeballs to their TV screens.


Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the most watched sports in Australia with the likes of the Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Golden Slipper & The Everest attracting plenty of attention across the racing calendar, but one race eclipses them all. 

It’s dubbed ‘the race that stops a nation’ for good reason, not only is it a public holiday in Victoria but it also glues hordes of people to their T.V. screens across the whole country on the first Tuesday in November. 

It is estimated that 1.7 million people tuned into the Melbourne Cup across Australia in 2021, showing that Australia’s love for horse racing and that event in particular is still going strong. 


Olympic Games

The Olympics are, of course, difficult to compare to the above sports. They only come around once every four years and last just two weeks, so the vast majority of the time there is nothing to watch at all in this area, and it’s also worth noting that the Games does, of course, entail a wide variety of different ports. When the oldest sporting event in the world does roll around, however, it quickly flexes its proverbial muscle, as it did in 2021.

 The Tokyo Olympics – which were of course scheduled for 2020 and then moved to a year later as a result of COVID – drew a huge amount of interest around the nation, and ended up with two individual programs in the top ten most-watched free-to-air programs of the year. The first of these was the Opening Ceremony, which saw 2,117,000 tune in – only slightly less than the number of people who watched the NRL Grand Final. Then, on Day 9 of the games, 2,070,000 tuned in for the night session, which made it the sixth most watched free-to-air event of the year. 

 Over the course of 2021, there were 105 free-to-air programs in total – excluding the news – which had over 1 million viewers in metro areas. Incredibly, the Olympic Games accounted for 45 of these. The Games drew a level of interest which few, if any, other sports would be able to sustain over a two-week period, and while it might not be able to compete with the aforementioned sports in terms of overall viewership given that it only runs for a fortnight every four years, when it is on it is certainly in the conversation for the most watched sporting event in Australia.  

Sport plays a massive role in the life of many Australians, and the viewership numbers for some of the most popular sports around the country are testament to this. Every year, when the top-rated programs for that year are released, they are littered with different sporting events, with the AFL and NRL Grand Final always near the top, the Australian Open Final often in the mix, and when it’s on, the Olympic Games also making an appearance. There are a multitude of different ways that you could define the most watched sport in the country – it could be by average viewership per game, total viewership throughout the course of the year, or the number of viewers who tune into the most-watched game/event in a given sport. But while there are plenty of others which garner a whole lot of interest too, it’s the above five which have stood out over the past couple of years as the most watched sports in the country.