With a long and rich history, it should come as no surprise that the sporting tradition in Australia remains not just alive and well but extremely energetic. Across the nation, more than half a dozen sports number their followers in the hundreds of thousands to the millions. Major sporting events become de facto holidays, and the success of one’s favourite team can bring you to soaring heights of celebration—so what is everyone in Australia following today? From home-grown sports to games played the world over, there are enough options that just about everyone can find something to like.
1. Australian Rules Football (The AFL)
The game of “footy” might share a name with the American gridiron game of football, but AFL has more than 150 years of history. Today, the cumulative number of people who tune in to watch AFL games throughout the season tops more than 100 million. The league’s Grand Final match held at the end of a season that runs from March to September drew nearly 3 million viewers in recent years. With 18 teams assembled from across the Australian states, there are tons of personalities to find and follow in each club—and the excitement of the playoffs is not something to miss.
2. The National Rugby League
If any sport can compete with the all-out popularity of the AFL, it is rugby that earns that distinction—specifically the National Rugby League, which drew more than 3.1 million spectators to games in 2019. It also achieved similar TV viewing figures, with more than 88 million views over the season. The game’s physicality, combined with the potential for big, explosive plays that can become the pivot point for the outcome of a match, make NRL games an enduring fan favourite. With sixteen clubs battling it out for supremacy on an even playing field, it’s hard to deny the excitement.
3. Rugby Union
Although not as massively popular as the NRL, the National Rugby Union also continues to attract a strong following. The difference between these two games lies primarily in some of the rules and how participants play the game—especially how tackles work. Otherwise, this is still the good old game of rugby that you know and love, with some interesting changes and tweaks that add different elements of strategy and competitive thinking into the mix. Don’t be surprised to find that a fan of one sport follows the other, too.
With more than 200 years of history and a deep cultural link to the history of Australia, it’s not hard to understand why it remains one of the most-followed sports in the country. Following a victory at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, the sport’s popularity has only increased. Each year, the celebrated competition “The Ashes” takes place between Australia and England, pitting some of the best cricket players in the world against each other over two incredible months of play. In 2022, a single Test match during The Ashes drew more than 2.75 million viewers. Compare that to the finale of the entire NRL, and we can see just how popular cricket remains in Australia.
Just as Australia takes great pride in its cricket teams, so too is there a high level of enthusiasm for soccer—or just plain “football” to most of the world. There are millions of individual amateur players, and the professional A-League provides viewers with plenty of opportunities to enjoy hard-fought matches on the pitch. Despite some recent declines in TV ratings, attendance remains good, and enthusiasm for the sport remains high.
Imported from North America, basketball has found a second home in Australia with a growing league that includes a team from New Zealand and a strong appetite for more content—meaning many Australians love to watch the American NBA, too. With only a 28-game regular season (compared to 82 in the NBA), the season is short but intense and full of excitement. In 2022, viewership for the NBA surged by more than 35% in Australia, signifying the sport’s continued growth as many Australian players have begun to transition to playing in the NBA. With more than half a dozen Aussies balling out in America, basketball looks set to continue its sharp rise in popularity among fans and viewers at home.
From the tried and true reliability of the excitement and competitive rivalries of the AFL or the NRL to the up-and-coming next generation of stars in the world of cricket, there’s practically something for everyone across Australia. No matter what sport you enjoy, it’s safe to say you won’t have to look far to find something you can follow throughout the season. Which one will earn your fandom next?