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3 June 2024

The name on the front of the jersey matters more than the name on the back.

Insights x Experience

The upcoming State of Origin series promises another chapter in Australia's fiercest sporting rivalry. But with a few big names missing from the State of Origin squads, we’ve seen a bit of commentary about what impact this might have on interest in the series. There’s also been some of the usual chatter about NSW caring less about the game, especially without their best players on the park.

The 3x Men’s Origin fixtures typically rate in the Top 5 highest viewed broadcasts in Australia each year. It’s a unique event that captures the attention of millions of Australians, and international fans of the game. The Women’s game also continues to prosper, with Game 1 this year driving more FTA viewership than any AFL or NRL game so far this season (according to Nine and nrl.com). There’s probably a few factors that drive this viewership. More than 40 years of history. A celebration of pride in your home town and your home state. At the end of the day, Origin is a chance for 34 (or 36 with 2x reserves) of the best players to take the field and go head to head. Or at least it should be.

Plenty of punters have suggested that engagement with the greatest games of “the greatest game at all” could be at risk, due to the current slate of injuries sidelining plenty of star players. Ahead of Game 1, both Queensland New South Wales have brought some new faces into camp, and there will be some familiar names missing on Wednesday night. Rather than speculate, our Experience and Insights teams decided to survey Aussies about what all of this means (or doesn’t mean) for their enjoyment of footy.

 What we uncovered

Familiar faces matter. 46% of avid Rugby League fans agreed that they were ‘more interested in watching a game if they were familiar with the individual players’. However, 80% of these same avid fans also disagreed with the idea that they ‘have no interest in watching if their favourite players aren’t playing’.

So, the most passionate and aware fans might yell and scream a little less if Cleary and Munster are missing, but there doesn’t appear to be much downside in terms of the desired commercial behaviours (tuning in to the game).

People still want to watch Origin. 19% of all Rugby League Fans (Casual & Avid Fans) surveyed indicated they were less interested in State of Origin than they were last year, but 69% of these same fans agreed they would definitely be watching this year. That number spikes to 86% when you isolate only the Avid Fans.

Blues fans are more willing to tune in, but Queenslanders care more about the result. Rugby League Fans in New South Wales were slightly more likely than those in Queensland to agree that they would definitely be watching this year (72% vs 67%). Despite the intent to watch the game, Queenslanders were 27% more likely to agree that they were passionate about the result (69% of fans vs 54%). It’s an adage that is thrown around by fans and players alike, but Queensland might just ‘get it’.

Passion for your state matters most. Outside of the most avid Rugby League fans, the best indicator of willingness to watch State of Origin was whether a respondent identified as having ‘a strong sense of pride about their home state’. 65% of those with pride in their state agreed that they would ‘definitely watching State of Origin’ (more than 2x higher than the average respondent, and 1.4x higher than ‘casual’ rugby league fans. That same proud audience were also more likely to be ‘passionate about the result’ (1.85x higher than ‘casual’ rugby league fans).

 What this means

While injuries might stop a few die-hard fans from grabbing a selfie with their favourite players, we’re expecting another year of strong broadcast and engagement results for SOO and the National Rugby League this series. The State vs State, and Mate vs Mate rivalry gets people fired up. The Maroon and Blue colours inspire fans just as much as the players.

The opportunity

While familiar faces might make the needle waiver slightly, our data suggests that the spirit of State of Origin remains strong. Millions of Australians will still tune in, and broadcast exposure during the games (through a media buy, or partnership with the NRL, QRL or NSWRL) will still generate significant value for brands. 

Origin will also continue to drive a uniquely valuable opportunity to connect with fans on a deeper level, celebrating not just the star power, but the essence of the competition. There’s a powerful psychology at play when State of Origin rolls around every year. Brands who can authentically become part of that environment, and unlock that passion, can take their investment and exposure to the next level.

For brands who do choose to invest in the game, understanding fan motivations is paramount to creating genuine impact. There’s a culture and rivalry that makes Origin special, regardless of who takes the field. The names on the front of the jersey mean more to fans than the names on the back.

The data and insights discussed in the above article were sourced from a poll of 306 Australians conducted in late May (during the Origin build up, after a number of injuries to incumbent players). Our sample represented a balanced split of age ranges, skewed slightly female, and deliberately engaged more Queensland and NSW respondents in order to better understand their perceptions on the game and the rivalry.

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