The NRL has recorded its highest attendance figures with more fans turning up to games this season than ever before, providing a substantial boost to the code ahead of the finals. The 2023 season has already set new aggregate and average crowd records, even with the regular season’s conclusion yet to take place this coming Sunday.
Data accumulated prior to round 27 suggest a total attendance of 3,607,093 fans, comfortably eclipsing the previous record of 3,151,660 set in 2012. Additionally, the yearly average crowd size has reached 18,404, also a new record. Even with no attendees in the season’s final round, the turnout in 2023 would still exceed the next best average of 16,468 recorded in 2005. The current data suggests an impressive increase of 22.6% in average crowd size compared to the previous year.
ARL Commission chairman, Peter V’landys attributed the successful turnout to the high entertainment value of the games. He said, “We’ve always said it’s the greatest game of all, and it is. All credit to the players because they have made it into an entertaining juggernaut. We should never forget that the game is about entertainment and escapism, people go to these games to escape all our problems and be entertained. That’s exactly what the game is doing.”
The draw of the competition seems to be in its unpredictability – the minor premiership and final eight weren’t determined the last round. The post-COVID free-flowing nature of the matches and the audiences’ eagerness to return to live events have also contributed significantly to the increase in attendance. Reflecting on the impact of COVID, V’landys stated, “COVID showed that people didn’t know what they had until it was taken away. Now people aren’t taking it for granted any more.”
The boost in attendance was achieved despite the unavailability of several venues due to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, forcing some clubs to shift matches to other, sometimes smaller grounds. The increased number of spectators bodes well for the NRL‘s push for governmental funding in support of stadium infrastructure.
While the NRL and the NSW government have only agreed to stage this year’s Grand Final in Sydney, the future of the decider is currently uncertain following a forgone promise of investing in suburban grounds. The addition of the Dolphins, despite a weak finish in their debut season, has also given a significant boost to the audience headcount.
For next season, the NRL aims to broaden its fan base with a double-header planned at the 65,000-capacity Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.