Unconventional Lessons: What the A-League Can Learn from Rugby League

Rugby league and soccer are not so different, especially in Australia and Britain, where both sports face similar challenges despite differing in popularity. Both sports have passionate fans but struggle to break through to mainstream success, often feeling overshadowed by larger sports such as NRL and AFL in Australia, and the Premier League in Britain. Both sports also grapple with financial issues and TV ratings, with soccer’s A-League having moved to Paramount+ and Network Ten, and British rugby league gaining a Free-to-Air partner in Channel 4. The two sports also share a complex relationship with larger, more popular partners, as well as constant player turnover and concerns about long-term stability. However, British rugby league has taken steps to address these challenges, such as aligning with a strategic partner to map out the sport’s future, and focusing on sustainable growth. In contrast, the A-League’s recent split from Football Australia and investment from private equity Silver Lake has been met with criticism, leading to uncertainties about the league’s future. The two sports also differ in their approach to second tiers, with soccer in Australia working towards a National Second Division without confirmation of promotion and relegation, while British rugby league has implemented a grading system to limit the number of clubs in each region and ensure stable growth and development of the league.