- Australian rules football tops the ranking of the most popular sports in Australia.
- Several sports have originated or been introduced to the country, including touch football, tennis, cricket, and baseball. However, only tennis and cricket among these examples make it to our stat-backed list of top sports in Australia.
- Many people participate in sports professionally or in more than one sport for recreational purposes, while others are spectators.
The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged care believes sports are crucial to an Australian’s health and daily routine.
More so is the contribution of sports to the economy, national pride, and international relationships.
Read on to discover the 10 most popular sports in Australia based on record spectators, viewership, or participation.
1. Australian Rules Football – 75.7 Million Fans
Australian rules football might not be the most popular sport in the world, but it is an indigenous sport with countrywide acclaim in Australia.
The 2022 Australian Football League’s total spectatorship peaks at 6,752,411, which we consider massive.1
Still, the tremendous figure amassed throughout the home and away games in the 2020 AFL season is not one we will likely forget in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.2
About 75.7 million Australians tuned in to watch the games countrywide, an average of about 500,000 per game, making Australian rules football the most watched sport in Australia.
The 2021 AFL Grand Final was another record-breaking game regarding viewership, attracting an average national audience of 4.11 million people.3
2. Rugby League – 70.2 Million Fans
While rugby union and league appear on our list, they are different sports. Rugby league opened its account in Australia in the early 1900s and currently features weekly games in domestic leagues.
The earlier has fifteen players to a team, while the rugby league has thirteen.
However, rugby league is a more popular sport in the country, with about 466,182 participants.4
Nine’s Thursday Night NRL (National Rugby League) Live collated an 869,000 national peak audience, but the 2020 NRL season was better, totaling 70.2 million viewers across the Nine Network and Foxleague.5
3. Cricket – 14 Million Fans
Cricket might be synonymous with India, but it is also a popular sport in the Oceanian country.
A cricket census recently confirmed that registered participation numbers in the Australian capital increased from 11,000 in 2020-21 to 12,400 in 2021-22, a 12.8% increase, while total registered participation increased by eleven percent between 2021 and 2022 to amass 598,931 participants.6 7
However, millions enjoy the sport, amounting to 7.2 million Australian adults watching cricket on television in 2019 and 14.8 million tuning into Nine’s coverage at some stage during the Summer of Test Cricket.8 9
4. Tennis – 12.5 Million Fans
Tennis reached Australia’s shores in the 1870s when it reached the United States; little wonder a substantial percentage of the country’s total population enjoys the sport.
Australia is among the four countries that hold the annual Grand Slam events, hosting it in Melbourne Park, Melbourne.
Thousands travel to watch the tournament live in the host city, with millions enjoying the games on their screens.
The 2022 Australian Open reached 12.5 million people nationwide on broadcast services Channel 9 and 9Gem, with a mean figure of 391,000 people per day streaming the event on 9Now.10
Spectatorship in women’s tennis is not left out in Australia; Ashleigh Barty’s Open final victory over Danielle Collins attracted 4.3 million peak viewers nationwide to become the most-watched women’s final since the current ratings and one of the country’s top annual broadcasts.11
5. Netball – 6.7 Million Fans
Netball has gained wide-ranging acclaim in Australia, regardless of being a sport designed exclusively for the feminine gender.
Over 1.2 million men, women, and children nationwide play the sport professionally, competitively, or recreationally to become Australia’s biggest team sport.12
This number indicates that about 21% of Australian adults, one in five, are netball fans.
Australia’s top-level netball league, Suncorp Super Netball, recorded a 120,000 average free-to-air viewership per match but attracted over 6.733 million viewers in the league’s Grand Final thriller between West Coast Fever and Sunshine Coast Lightning.13
6. Swimming – 6.0 Million Participants
Like cycling, swimming is another sport common among Australians; however, more Australians participate in swimming than in cycling, thanks to the country’s long history in the sport, dating back to 1894 — its earliest event at a national level.
About six million people regularly or occasionally swim in the country, participating recreationally or professionally, and we have little reason to doubt that number, given Australia’s climate and beautiful beaches.14
Swimming Australia, the country’s peak governing body for competitive swimming, has roughly 100,000 registered members in 1,100 clubs.15
In a case study on Australia’s winning edge, the Australian Sports Commission reported that the 2016 Australian Championships live broadcast on Network Seven reached an average audience of almost 1.3 million.16
Still, the national swim team, the Dolphins’ success at major international championships, and historical rivalry with the U.S Swimming Team are other reasons for the sport’s widespread acclaim.
7. Cycling – 3.43 Million Participants
A lack of adequate data reveals the difficulty of tracking cycling viewership in Australia, but spectatorship and participation figures are heartwarming.
The sport is among the country’s most common physical and recreational activities grossing 3.43 million participants, according to a 2019 report.17
The Cycling Australia Road National Championships also reported a thirty percent participation increase and a ten percent spectatorship increase to amass 20,000 people cheering the cyclists.18
The just-concluded UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, welcomed roughly 200,000 spectators and over 200 million viewers.19
While these figures are shared by several countries globally, we can argue that the host country would be among those with the largest share.
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8. Association Football (Soccer) – 2.0 Million Participants
Football majestically tops the list of the world’s most popular sports, with an estimated five billion fans, with about two to 4.5 million coming from Australia.
About two million people recreationally or professionally play football in Australia but even more watch the sport.
The FIFA World Cup is the most popular football competition on Australian TV, attracting 3.8 million viewers in its last event in 2018.20
In 2019, the A-League A-League attracted 1,748,000 cumulative viewers, a little below the country’s English Premier League TV viewership (1,794,000).21
The A-League Women, formerly known as the W-League, has not done much worse, increasing viewership over the years; the league amassed about 879,000 Australian viewership.22
Australia Women’s National Soccer Team striker Samantha Kerr is one of the most prominent figures in women’s football worldwide, enjoying various successes with Chelsea and appearing with French and PSG forward Kylian Mbappé on FIFA 23 cover image.
9. Basketball – 1.3 Million Participants
Basketball in Australia is a well-known sport, amassing about 1.3 million recreational or professional participants.23
However, there is more to basketball in Australia than just recreational participation.
The citizens are NBA lovers, sitting as one of the countries outside the U.S.A with a significant percentage increase in average viewership audience, with a thirty-five percent viewership rise.24
Australians also have a well-developed basketball that attracts several viewers nationwide. The 2019-20 NBL series readily comes to mind, reaching a two million cumulative TV audience, with one million video chapter views online.25
The Perth Wildcats seem to be one of the most supported Australian basketball clubs, recording a spectator audience of 183,689 for their home games.
10. Rugby Union – 1.3 Million Fans
Rugby union has a long history in Australia, establishing itself as one of the country’s 19th-century sports.
Over a hundred years of rugby union in the country has seen the sport amass thousands of registered participants, even though the rise of rugby league has affected its popularity.26
With the country’s national team winning two Rugby World Cup tournaments in nine appearances and over a dozen legends becoming World Rugby Hall of Famers, we expect rugby union to sit amongst Australia’s most popular sports.
The Stan Sport and 9 GEM digital television services accumulated a 207,302 weekly average cumulative audience, with weekly viewing reaching its highs for the Super Rugby AU final, which peaked at 1.3 million people.27 28
The Top 10 Most Popular Sports in Australia
|1||Australian Rules Football (Australian Football)||75.7 Million Fans|
|2||Rugby League||70.2 Million Fans|
|3||Cricket||14 Million Fans|
|4||Tennis||12.5 Million Fans|
|5||Netball||6.7 Million Fans|
|6||Swimming||6.0 Million Participants|
|7||Cycling||3.43 Million Participants|
|8||Association Football (Soccer)||2.0 Million Participants|
|9||Basketball||1.3 Million Participants|
|10||Rugby Union||1.3 Million Fans|
The popularity of sports in Australia is mouth-watering, with many people participating recreationally in more than one sport while others earn from it professionally.
We do well to commend some natives that have painted the country’s colors on the global stage by excelling in their field; WSL winner and 2021 UEFA Women’s Champions League finalist Samantha Kerr is one of the most popular Australians in women’s football.
Still, Australians may never forget the most successful athlete at the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics, Ian Thorpe, who represented the country in swimming.
The most popular sports in Australia ranked above improve physical and mental health, help people fit into a social group, and instill habits for an active life.
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References & Notes
- Attendances (1921-2022). via AFL Tables.
- What Are The Most Watched Sports In Australia? via Men.com.au.
- 2021 AFL Grand Final breaks TV viewership records. via News.com.au
- Analysing the state of rugby in Australia. via The Roar.
- 2020 NRL TV Ratings. via Sports Industry AU
- ACT participation numbers enjoy increase, Blast revival a focus. via Cricket ACT.
- Clubs bounce back, but new concern in cricket census. via Cricket.com.au.
- Number of adults watching cricket on television in Australia in 2019, by type. via Statista
- More Than 14 Million Watch Nine’s Summer Of Test Cricket. via Nine for Brands.
- Nine’s record-breaking coverage of the AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2022 secures 12.5 million national viewers. via TV Blackbox.
- Ashleigh Barty’s Australian Open final triumph garners huge ratings Down Under. via Tennis.com.
- About Netball Australia
- Over 1 Million Tune in to Nailbiting Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final. via Nine for Brands.
- Six million Australians make Swimming ‘Number 1 Sport.’ via Roy Morgan.
- Swimming Australia. Google Arts & Culture.
- Swimming Australia: a case study in Australia’s Winning Edge. via Australian Sports Commission.
- 3.43 million Australians ride bikes for transport or recreation each week. via Austroads.
- RoadNats cyclist and spectator numbers up this year. via The Courier.
- 2022 UCI Road World Championships. via Wollongong NSW
- FIFA World Cup a favourite for Generation X & Millennial men. via Roy Morgan
- W-League grows TV viewership according to Roy Morgan survey. via Mediaweek.
- W-League’s TV audience set to overtake A-League within five years. via The Women’s Game.
- Basketball by the numbers: the sport’s recent growth in Australia. via Basketball Australia.
- NBA viewership enjoys spike in Australia. via 7News.
- Special Broadcasting Service Corporation Annual Report 2019-20. via Transparency Portal.
- Is the popularity of Rugby Union in Australia on a decline? via Talking Rugby Union.
- 2021 Annual Report. via Rugby AU.
- Nine amps up sports streaming war with Super Rugby numbers. via Australian Financial Review.