While the National Football League (NFL) and the Australian Football League (AFL) are both contact sports with significant followings in their respective countries, they differ significantly in terms of their rules, gameplay, and cultural significance.
The NFL dates back to the 1920s and has enjoyed the top spot in the American sports charts for a long while. Many states have their teams participating in the league, and the competition to be in the playoffs is something everyone looks forward to every year.
The AFL started in the gold rush era as the ‘Victorian Football League’ when the first clubs were established, but it changed to ‘AFL’ in 1990 as more teams joined the game. Teams compete to play in the Grand Final—the most important match in the season. The attendance can reach up to 100,000 people, making it the most popular sport in Australia. If you’re in Australia, get ready for AFL showdown on ANZAC Day and immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of this special game.
This article will discuss four of these major leagues’ similarities and differences.
1. Revenue Collection
The NFL is estimated to generate a massive USD$16–18 billion in revenue each year, making it one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world. In comparison, the AFL generated more than AUD$700 million in revenue in 2021. However, the AFL is gaining popularity around the world, thanks in part to the recent documentary, ‘Making Their Mark.’
The NFL attracts a massive audience, with more than 500,000 as the average total home attendance per team in the 2022 regular season. On the other hand, the population of Australia is roughly over 25 million people, and the attendance figure for the AFL Grand Final (Geelong vs. Sydney) in 2022 was 100,024.
It’s worth noting that the AFL Grand Final attendance over the last few years was lower than usual due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the preceding years, the attendance had been much higher, with over 100,000 people attending the event.
2. Viewership And Popularity
While both the NFL and AFL are popular sports leagues in their respective countries, the NFL enjoys significantly higher levels of popularity and viewership in the United States (US). In contrast, the AFL has a smaller fan base and is not as widely followed or covered in the Australian media compared to the NFL in the US.
The NFL enjoys maximum media coverage in the US. The AFL is at the top but faces stiff competition from horse racing and cricket, which are also significant industries in the country.
3.League Structure And Competition
The NFL has a defined structure that supports 32 teams. These teams are split into two conferences—the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC). Each conference is further divided into four regional divisions, with four teams in each division.
The winners of each division qualify for the playoffs, and two wild card teams from each conference with the best record also qualify. The teams then compete through an elimination tournament to reach the Super Bowl, where the AFC and NFC champions face each other to determine the winner of the NFL championship.
In the AFL, 18 teams compete in a regular season consisting of 23 rounds, with each team playing 22 matches in a home-and-away format. The top eight teams at the end of the regular season qualify for the finals series, which is a four-week elimination tournament culminating in the Grand Final.
The team that wins the Grand Final has crowned the AFL champion, earning the right to claim the premiership trophy and bragging rights for the season.
4. Field Size And Team Constitution
In field size comparison, the two leagues have more significant differences than similarities. The NFL field size is approximately 91 meters long between the goal lines and 49 meters wide. It’s rectangular, allowing only 11 players per team during game time, with many of the teams’ players on the bench. But a roster can have 53 people who contribute to the season campaign.
The AFL has a different setup for their field. The playing ground is oval-shaped and typically measures 135–185 meters long and 110–155 meters wide. There are 18 players per team during game time and 38 on a squad.
Both the NFL and AFL have a significant following, and the resources invested in each league have effectively supported their popularity. While there is no winner or loser in comparing the two leagues, the NFL is expanding faster overseas. It may take some time for the AFL to catch up with the NFL, but the former also continues to grow its international profile.