The opening round of Australian rugby league’s NRL season delivered record audiences for domestic rightsholder Foxtel as more than 4.1 million viewers tuned in to the pay-television operator’s expanded lineup of matches.

Throughout the opening round, which ran between March 2 and 5, average audience figures reached 523,000, a 17% increase from last year, across Foxtel’s linear channels and Kayo Sports streaming service.

The round’s Sydney clash between the Sharks and Rabbitohs drew more than 630,000 viewers, the highest-ever audience for a regular season game.

The Queensland Dolphins' inaugural game, against Sydney’s Roosters, became the most-viewed game on a Sunday afternoon after generating 567,000 viewers, while the match between Penrith Panthers and Brisbane Broncos set the record for Foxtel’s most-watched Friday game of all time with 552,000 fans tuning in.

More than 546,000 viewers, meanwhile, watched the Paramatta Eels take on Melbourne Storm, making it Foxtel’s most-watched opening NRL match of all time.

The 2023 season features an increased field of 17 teams after the inclusion of the Dolphins, the fourth Queensland-based club.

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Foxtel holds domestic rights to the NRL as part of a seven-year deal struck in 2020 worth around AUD200 million ($137.7 million) per season until 2027. As part of the deal, it airs all eight games each round, with five exclusive games each weekend, across its linear channel and Kayo Sports streaming platform.

Patrick Delany, Foxtel Group’s chief executive, said: “Two years ago, Peter V’landys began a ground-breaking push around further expansion in Queensland, and this vision was brought to life over the weekend.

“He believed at the time that extra teams in Queensland would stimulate the total market for NRL in Australia and the extraordinary start of the season for all four Queensland teams puts this vision on track to achieve those goals.
“Congratulations to Peter and the Commission. It takes hard work and extraordinary experience within the clubs to pull off something like that. It’s what the fans been waiting for.”

“There have been many team expansions in other sports, but they are not always as successful as what we saw on the weekend. It has been fantastic to see Queensland supporters make the most of the opportunity with record audiences across all of our platforms over the weekend making this the biggest round of NRL on Foxtel and Kayo Sports ever.

“It’s a great endorsement of what our Fox Sports team are doing to bring the magic of this sport to the screen of millions of Australians every single week. We will keep changing the game together with the NRL, and there is no doubt this season is only going to get bigger.”