On a national scale, it’s hard to compare any of the other native Australian sports to the AFL but that is certainly not to say that the other native sporting leagues around the country aren’t just as successful as the AFL.
The National Rugby League and the major cricket tournaments around Australia, the Sheffield Shield, the Ryobi Cup and the Big Bash League are some of the most competitive sporting leagues in the world and have fostered young talents that have turned Australia into a powerhouse in both sports on the world stage. In Melbourne however, neither sport has as strong as presence as that of AFL.
Rugby League has been played in Australia for over 100 years but it has mainly been an Eastern states sport. Its heartland is Sydney. Melbourne and Victoria are traditionally Australian Rules territory.
Rugby was introduced to Melbourne at a professional level through the Storm in 1998 and since then, Melbournian’s have been spoiled. The Storm have made the NRL grand final 6 times since their inception and despite the Salary Cap Scandal of 2009, Storm membership has risen steadily, eclipsing 15,000 members for the first time in 2013. That number gives the Storm the fifth highest membership total in the NRL.
While Rugby in Melbourne is growing, the same can’t be said about Cricket. Cricket at a grassroots level has never been stronger with 275,000+ playing across the state but from a entertainment perspective, the longer form of the game is suffering. The upcoming Ashes series will still pull record crowds but on a whole, an average person’s attention span is decreasing due to cultural factors, which leaves Test Cricket and One Day Cricket in weakened state.
The rise in popularity of Rugby and the demise in Cricket come down to one thing: time. Australians once had time to go down to the MCG and watch cricket for 7 to 8 hours but that is no longer. They yearn for an explosive contest over a shortened space of time, a product which Rugby League can offer with its 80 minute games.
This is why the Big Bash League and the Twenty20 concept has been so popular. It offers a dynamic game of Cricket over a three hour period and while it is not the traditionally type of cricket we are used to seeing, it is a gold mine for entertainment, either on TV or at the ground. Both Melbourne teams, the Stars and Renegades have averaged crowds of 15,000 in their first two seasons of the BBL and the BBL has beaten the A-League out in television ratings in 2012-13.
While neither of these sports will ever reach the population of AFL in Melbourne, both certainly can offer an entertaining alternative for a similar price.
Ben Sathananthan is a second year Sports Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow his Twitter at @bensathsports