Before I can start writing about this topic, I need to address the most controversial issue surrounding the round ball game: Is it called football or soccer? We can turn to the digital behaviour of Australians to see which term is most likely to be used. Looking at the top keywords driving traffic to the “Sports – Soccer” category in Hitwise, the keyword “football” is used more than “soccer”. Even though soccer still has a fair amount of currency, the push to call the sport football seems to be succeeding.
Football is in an interesting position in the Australian sporting landscape. It can claim that it has the highest participation levels of any organised sport, yet the A-League lags behind the AFL and NRL with respect to attendances and TV ratings. Within the space of a few days, more people turned up to watch Brazil and Argentina play a meaningless friendly than watch Australia play Brazil in a friendly or watch Australia play Saudi Arabia in a crucial world cup qualifier. It seems that there is much higher engagement with the sport at the elite level, and this is reflected in the digital behaviour of Australians.
Looking at traffic over the past year, the AFL and NRL categories have a clear seasonal dip during their off-seasons (October – February) while football stays relatively consistent throughout the whole year, being the most popular category during December and January when the season is in full swing while the NRL and AFL are in their offseason.
This data would seem to suggest that football is more popular than Rugby League, but a closer inspection of the top ranked sites in the Sports industry shows a slightly different story. The official AFL and NRL sites are dominant at the top of the category with the first football site to appear, ESPN FC – AU, only ranked in 15th place, and the next best being The World Game in 27th and Goal in 29th. Football’s strength seems to lie in the long tail, with the high number of sites dedicated to international leagues and teams adding up to a higher volume of visits overall.
Engagement with these sports also extends to fantasy and tipping and gambling sites. Fantasy and tipping sites, in particular, appeal to their competitive side and allow them to show off their knowledge of the game. When it comes to gambling, a preference for overseas markets also emerges. An analysis of the most popular pages on the Sportsbet “Soccer” section shows that the “United Kingdom” receives more than 3x as many page views as “Australia”.
The strong engagement with elite football is also reflected in search data. Looking at search term variations of the phrase “world cup” over the last 3 years, the spike during the Football in Brazil in July 2014 was much larger than the Cricket World Cup in early 2015 (Australia won on home soil) and the Rugby Union World Cup in late 2015 (where Australia made the final).
In fact, the Football World Cup almost generated as much search interest as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
So what else do football fans do online and how can they be reached? We can create a segment of people who have visited the “Sports – Soccer” category and see what sites they are most likely to visit.
Football fans are reading match previews and reports on multiple news sites, especially international ones, placing bets on matches they will be tracking and then using Reddit and Twitter to engage with fans around the world and comment on matches as they are watching them. We can also create segments of people who visit the A-League site vs. the Premier League Site vs. the My Football Club site to understand their demographic profile. While the two fans segments are heavily over-indexed for males in the 18-34 range, the players group is over-indexed for females aged 35-44. This suggests that this could be made up of mothers enrolling their children to play.
So how do Australian’s see football in this country? They love playing it and they love engaging with it at the highest level (World Cup, Champion’s League and EPL) however, they just aren’t interested in the professional game at the domestic level.
Keep an eye out for our AFL & NRL infographic in the coming weeks which takes a deeper look into the Australian Rules and Rugby League audiences.