Aussie Rules And Horse Racing

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that indicate a sport’s popularity based upon the number of people who actually attended a sporting event in 2010 offer confirmation that horse racing is a distant second to Aussie Rules Football, but enjoys a substantial advantage of about 300,000 spectators over Rugby League.

Offering additional insight is that the other two racing codes, harness and dog, were well represented on the list of spectator sports, with harness racing surprisingly beating out tennis in a country that has produced a disproportionate number of all-time great tennis players.

Part of the popularity of horse racing would be the cultural connection betwixt Aussies and horses. Another would be that in terms of possibilities to attend as a spectator, the AFL is limited to 18 teams, with 18 regular season games, meaning that there are only 324 opportunities to attend an AFL match, but thoroughbred racing alone offers 542 Black Type races before lesser quality races are even brought into the picture.

Something that also should not be overlooked when it comes to counting spectators is that racetracks, with the possible exception of the major marquee events, will let anyone in so as to encourage wagering. Imagine the chaotic scene if the MCG were to throw the gates open to anyone who wanted to have a punt on a Sydney Swans/Roos match.

We’ll Advance The Discussion With Another Statistic.

In 1970, the Carlton versus Collingwood Grand Final claims to have been attended by 121,696 spectators in the era before standing room areas were eliminated. The horse racing equivalent of the Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup, claims 122,736 were in attendance for The Race That Stops A Nation in 2003.

In 1997, The AFL Grand Final hosted 99,645 to watch the Adelaide Crows raise the flag after dispensing with the Saint Kilda Saints and a young Barry Hall. A bit over a month later, the Melbourne Cup attracted 94,143 spectators.

How many had seats and how many had to stand is not exactly known. What is known is that jockey Jim Cassidy had the best seat in the house, that atop Might And Power, covering the Flemington turf in 3.18.33, the fourth fastest time ever, behind Kingston Rule in 1990 (3.16.30), Media Puzzle in 2002 (3.16.97) and Tawrrific in 1989 (317.10).

The second best seat would have been occupied by Greg Hall, who had taken over steering duties for Doriemus after Damien Oliver had piloted Doriemus to win the 1995 Cup.

If age is any criterion for deserving a good seat, that would have to go to 47-year-old Midge Didham, who acquitted himself admirably in steering his mount, eight-year-old Markham, to third place less than a length behind the other two, in a time that would have won the Melbourne Cup many times.

None of these attendance statistics account for television, radio or the Internet. They are given in order to provide some food for thought so that anyone with the interest can form their own conclusions.

Both Sports Very Popular

Both Aussie Rules Football and thoroughbred horse racing enjoy immense popularity in Australia and it is entirely possible that many of the same spectators that make up the numbers for Rules could have attended one or more race meetings.

Our choice of 1997 as the year for comparing AFL Grand Final attendance with that of the Melbourne Cup was entirely subjective. In terms of choosing the events for the comparison, it was based simply on the two spectator events that rank at the top of the list for attendance. We did find it interesting that the attendance figures for the Grand Final and the Melbourne Cup are generally very similar, but that is undoubtedly because both are capable of attracting a crowd that would well exceed the capacity of the venues at which they are held.

The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2010 clearly demonstrate that Rules draws far more spectators than horse racing despite offering fewer opportunities. The chief limiting factor for both sports, however, would seem to be that if the venues were to be enlarged to accommodate more spectators, the quality of the experience would certainly diminish for those so far away from the action that it would be next to impossible for them to see what was taking place.

Thoroughbred horse racing is contested all over the world, something that could contribute to its popularity. Rules, on the other hand, despite some adoption in places other than Australia, is quintessentially Australian. Its uniqueness would have to be credited with some of the popularity it enjoys

Racing in Australia in any terms is quite remarkable, for despite taking place in a country with a population of about 23 million, it has more racecourses than any other nation. It trails only the United States in terms of the number of races contested each year, despite having only about seven percent the population of the States. It ranks third behind the States and Japan (pop. 127 million) in terms of prize money.

Australian Rules was introduced in Japan in 1910 and is gaining in popularity. Japanese teams have been praised for their effort and style of play, but lacking tall players is a definite hindrance on the international level.

The United States Australian Football League is gaining quite a bit of interest. There are 35 teams scattered across the country, with teams engaging in limited schedules and travel.

Given that the United States and Japan are both rabid consumers of sports entertainment, it is reasonable to assume that Aussie Rules will grow to gather additional fans, especially in the States where spectators of American football are growing weary of devoting four hours of time to see six minutes of actual action. All it will take is a few Aussie ex-pats to convince the Americans that no one is trying to get them to watch soccer.

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