Rugby League clubs in NSW recalibrate to new Covid realities


NSWRL clubs and associations were particularly hit hard by the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns last year with social media results broadly in line with grassroots trends across the industry. The silver lining to this has been a recalibration of core productivity and engagement metrics that has left overall performance levels holding steady.  

A five-year Shunt analysis (2015-19) of rugby league clubs and associations in New South Wales has highlighted that the number of posts published were up 80%, while audience engagement climbed an impressive 200% as the performance of posts (an engagement to productivity ratio) also improved by 66%.

Productivity outputs dealt a blow


Strong, year-on-year increases in the number of posts published had been the order of the day for rugby league clubs and associations across New South Wales as productivity improved by 25% in 2016 then 15% (2017) and 10% (2018) respectively. Easily breaking through the 75,000 post barrier in 2019, the sport was on-track for even bigger things in 2020 until Covid came along.  

New South Wales grassroots rugby league clubs and associations made the best of a bad situation with content down 28% on 2019 results. Considering the industry average across 8,000 clubs analysed by Shunt fell 21%, rugby league has some work to do in getting this core social media output back to historical highs through 2021.

Year of rebuilding audience engagement ahead

While the internal productivity systems and processes across New South Wales rugby league steadily improved resulting in consistent output increases the outlook for audience engagement (total Facebook reactions, comments and shares) was even better.

2016 engagement levels were up 52% on the previous year, with 2017 returning a 15% boost and 2018 a 26% uplift.

As with each sport Shunt has assessed to date these results couldn’t be sustained through 2020 with total reactions, comments and shares falling from a 2019 high of 2.26 million to 1.43 last year – representing a 37% drop. This result is broadly in line with the industry’s 35% grassroots reduction identified by Shunt as part of its latest round of analysis.  

Recalibration minimizes performance impact

The real test of how healthy and robust a sports social media presence is the performance of posts published. This simple ratio that divides total engagement by the number of posts is a key indicator of how efficient and effective they are.

When engagement growth far exceeds increasing productivity levels the net result is a steady improvement in New South Wales rugby league club and association post performance from 2015 to ‘19.

With the average number of engagements per post increasing from 17.28 (2015) to 28.75 (2019) it suggests the sports clubland have progressively become more efficient and effective in how they manage their time on social media. Even in 2020, a smaller reduction in productivity than engagement limited the impact Covid-19 lockdowns had on this key metric.

A sure sign of a sport that has a handle on its social media and the delicate interplay between informing and engaging audiences.

Then along came Covid…..

Shunt has recently published industry-wide research examining the impact Covid-19 and associated lockdowns have had on the sector.

The 2020 Q1 productivity and engagement profiles indicate rugby league in New South Wales was on track for another strong year as the winter season was just getting underway. As lockdowns came into effect both productivity and engagement crashed as it has done for most of the 30 other sports analysed to date.

Testament to the resilience of New South Wales rugby league clubs and associations they rolled with the punches, reorganised themselves and then came out fighting with core Facebook social media metrics highlighting a spirited recovery that saw core metrics move well past pre-Covid levels by July.

Double-dip cause for concern?

As per other sports Shunt has analysed to date, the productivity profile of rugby league clubs in New South Wales was building from 3,845 published posts in January to 6,413 by March just as the winter season was kicking into gear.  

When Covid hit, content published plunged to just 2,600 by May as lockdowns bit and didn’t improve much in June (3,553) before a dramatic turnaround occurred. Each successive month recorded a steady climb in outputs culminating in an August result that exceeded the best pre-Covid result by over 1,600 posts.

Of note, posts outputs from October onwards quickly dropped from 7,461 (September) to just 3,354 in October. Where similar (winter, team-based) sports analysed by Shunt in the New South Wales market saw a gradual tapering of productivity the falls across rugby league were faster and deeper.

Despite everything rugby league achieved in 2020 productivity outputs are down on previous years with the final tally standing at 56,340. This has meant that rugby league will beat 2016 totals (54,598/+3.19%) but fall short of the 2019 result (78,712).  

July and August make-up for Covid down-time

One of the truisms of social media is that if you don’t publish you won’t get an audience response. Equally the more you post, typically the higher the engagement as is the case here when comparing New South Wales grassroots rugby league organisations productivity and engagement profiles.

All the effort put into finishing a season that was much shorter than normal and played under very different conditions on a positive note with a massive ramp-up of productivity from May onwards was repaid with interest by Facebook fans. This is reflected in a low of 82,270 reactions, comments and shares (June) to a massive 255,326 result in September.

This suggests grassroots football fans are both receptive and highly responsive to content club’s post. The takeaway here is that perhaps the fastest way for rugby league clubland in New South Wales to get within striking distance of its 2.26 million tally of 2019 is to complete an uninterrupted season while using every opportunity to post more often? 

The huge effort by rugby league clubs and associations to continue to engage audiences through a disrupted 2020 wasn’t enough to better the exceptional results of 2019 with total reactions, comments and shares at the end of the year standing at 1.43 million. This in itself represents a massive achievement considering the turbulent year the sport has endured.   

Magpies are rugby leagues clubland all-stars

Closing-out 2020, the Western Suburbs Magpies came out on top as Shunt’s audience all-stars with a Facebook following of 18,764. The North Sydney Bears are giving the ‘Maggies’ a run for their money with the number of fans currently at 17,317 and are well within reach of snatching the top spot. A fairly distant, but still impressive third is the Newtown Jets with their fanbase now topping 10,000.

Cessnock crack 800 postmark

Publishing a post a day is an achievement, while at least twice a day has rarely been seen across the thousands of grassroots clubs Shunt currently monitors. Having two clubs crack this milestone is impressive, particularly in a year like 2020 with a big shout-out to Cessnock Goannas (2.20 posts per day) and Cambridge Park JRLC (2.00) for their sterling efforts.

Rounding out the top three and just under the two posts per day threshold was the North Sydney Bears.

Magpies fans highly engaged

The Western Suburbs Magpies did a great job of converting their large Facebook fanbase into high engagement levels with total reactions, comments and shares for 2020 comfortably exceeding 100,000.

The North Sydney Bears were again in the mix as the second most engaging rugby league club or association in New South Wales with a tally of circa 65,000. Como Jannali JRLFC snatched the last podium spot in a tight tussle with Cambridge Park JRLC.

Magpies performance surges to all-time high

Shunt’s performance metric is all about striking the right balance between content quality and quantity with Western Suburbs Magpies delivering a sensational result of 178.34 average engagements per post. This is one of the highest results yet seen by Shunt in its analysis of 30 sports.

While the North Sydney Bears easily took the runner-up performance slot (72.99) the battle for third was intense with three clubs evenly matched. In the end, the Spuddies (62.69), just had the goods over the Raiders (62.27) and Devils (61.03). 

Research notes;

328 Rugby league clubs and associations from across New South Wales with a Facebook page were analysed as part of this report. Results are for Facebook only. Annual data from January 2015 to December 2020 inclusive. 2020 results from January 1st to December 31st inclusive.

Uncertain as to what 2021 has in store?
You’re not the only one! Throughout 2020, Shunt doubled-down on its work with our state and national sports clients to proactively expand their situational awareness. If you also want your ‘socials’ to deliver actionable insights that ensure you don’t just survive, but thrive then let’s chat. Get in touch at



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here