The record ratings for the NRL grand final have effectively killed off any hope of the game being returned to a daytime slot.
The decider between South Sydney and Canterbury was a ratings bonanza for the Nine Network, which secured a five-city average audience of 2,597,000 and a peak of 3,098,000. Those figures are the highest for an NRL game since OzTam ratings began.
There was also a ground record of 83,833 set at ANZ Stadium, the largest crowd since the venue was reconfigured after the Sydney Olympics. That beat the previous mark of 83,813 set for the deciding game of last year's State of Origin series. The NRL believes the demand for tickets was such that they could have accommodated a crowd of more than 100,000 had the original Olympic configuration remained.
The governing body is locked into staging the grand finals at night until the end of the current broadcast agreement, which expires at the end of 2017. There have been calls from fans to revert to the daytime slot, which would make the match more accessible for young children. Several high-profile players have also stated their preference for daytime football, saying the dewy conditions in the evening make the ball slipperier and less conducive to expansive football. However, the NRL's head of commercial, Paul Kind, said the early evening kick-off ensured the biggest possible audience.
"This year's grand final attracted the biggest television audience ever for an NRL match," Kind said.
"So, while the grand final will be part of the discussions for the next rights deal, it is clear that we reach more people by staging the game in the early evening."
The NRL's head of football, Todd Greenberg, added: "We haven't spoken about [timeslots] since the grand final but I think the numbers speak for themselves in terms of the numbers inside the stadium and with broadcast.
"It's obviously a phenomenal event that's been built over a long period of time and I think Sunday night showed the way the grand final is positioned, the way it is delivered and executed on the day and night, was phenomenal. The ratings speak to that."
The grand final will remain in Sydney until at least the end of the 2019 season, as there is a contractual agreement to stage games at ANZ Stadium for that period. However, in the lead-up to the Souths-Canterbury classic, NRL CEO Dave Smith floated the prospect of taking it out of Sydney for the first time at some point. With the exception of the 1997 Super League decider, which was held in Brisbane, every grand final in the 106-year history of rugby league has been held in Sydney.
The NSW Minister for Sport and Recreation, Stuart Ayres, said it was his desire to keep it that way, promising to do his utmost to keep it here.
"NSW is the spiritual home of rugby league in our country. Even contemplating moving the grand final away from Sydney is madness," Ayres said.
"Sydney offers bigger crowds, bigger TV audiences, and after the classic grand final on the weekend the biggest and best experience."
The NSW government has outlined its stadium strategy, which focuses resources towards the upgrade of major stadiums. Officials at ANZ Stadium are hoping for a significant facelift to the venue before its contract to host deciders lapses.