SYDNEY: Fears that Sunday's all-Queensland encounter in the National Rugby League (NRL) grand final would hit viewing figures proved exaggerated as the game attracted more viewers than the previous day's Australian Football League (AFL) grand final.

On a big sporting weekend in Australia – which included the Rugby [Union] World Cup clash between Australia and England – the NRL final gained a national audience of 3.667m compared to the AFL's 3.523m, Mumbrella reported.

And at its peak, 4.4m were watching the NRL final, the result of which was in doubt until the final kick. Viewership of a rather more one-sided AFL final topped out at 3.9m.

When looking at the figures for the five city metros, however, the lack of a Sydney team clearly had an effect on the numbers viewing the NRL game: 2.437m watched it compared to the 2.635m watching the AFL final.

According to Ashley Earnshaw, Carat Sydney's head of investment, sport is a key driver of audience on free-to-air TV.

"Event TV such as live sport finals doesn't get any bigger and is still the strength of the linear TV set," he told Ad News.

But, he also put the weekend's events in context, pointing out that, in the US, the Superbowl draws nearly a third of the US population while less than one fifth of Australians watched the NRL final.

Despite that, a captive audience is a big draw for advertisers, who can expect to pay a huge premium if buying airtime on a spot basis.

"The in-game breaks are so premium they're generally reserved for sponsors/partners only and even they are booked in across a four-hour window," Earnshaw explained. "You can also only gain access to the Grand Final if you buy a package across the season."

An assessment of social media activity around the games found that the NRL came out on top there as well, with a reported 106,000 peak mentions against the AFL's 92,000.

Data sourced from Mumbrella, Ad News; additional content by Warc staff