We are not that different, you and me. I am not talking about Lex Luther and Superman, it is rugby league and soccer. It is true that there is no comparison in Australia in terms of popularity (the NRL is ahead) or globally (soccer rules). But, there is one specific, highly comparable place where both sports face similar problems, and they differ in how they deal with those challenges.
Both Australian football and British rugby league exist for a passionate, committed audience and also have mass appeal. For these sports, supporters often feel like there is a conspiracy to keep their sport down and a partisan nature that often goes beyond their clubs and into support for the game itself. But, they are not the first most important sport in their respective regions. In Australia, the A-League falls behind the NRL and AFL, and has taken steps not to overlap with those sports.
In the UK, Super League is not the most important code on a national level, but it has proved its ability to draw an audience during big games on domestic television. Despite their social force, this has not translated to changes in attendance or viewership. The A-League’s move to Paramount+ and Network Ten is described as of mixed success. Similarly, while Super League’s move to Channel 4 did improve ratings, it has yet to see an increase in revenue through advertising.
The two codes are in a constant back-and-forth with their larger partners. In 2018, Super League split from the governing body but has since realigned and attracted a major private strategic partner, IMG, to take a long-term approach to the game. In contrast, the A-League split from Football Australia to create the Australian Professional Leagues, which found investment from private equity Silver Lake, but has shown little commitment to the long term.
In both sports, a grading system has been introduced to stratify how many clubs actually want to be professional, and how many could be sustainable under such an arrangement. Such a move has caused issues in the Super League, especially in the border areas between the first and second tiers. In contrast, Australian football is focused on creating a second tier without any confirmation that promotion and relegation will ever be a part of the system.