Market research has shown the All Blacks blow Australian rivals out of the water in terms of fan engagement.
Consultancy True North has released its latest BenchMark study into emotional connection (EC) with Aussie sports teams, with the national women's cricket team emerging on top.
But the researchers extended their March/April 2020 poll across the Tasman for the first time, where our national men's rugby team smashed the previous highest EC score.
The All Blacks recorded 251 in the True North calculations, well clear of their nearest Aussie counterparts - the women cricketers scored 190 - and better than 295 other teams measured previously.
"The All Blacks have been intuitively understood to represent the pinnacle for emotional connection in any sport around the world," say the researchers. "True North has analysed how high that benchmark actually is.
"However, this is unique to the All Blacks. Other New Zealand teams such as Auckland Blues [rugby], Northern Mystics [netball] and NZ Warriors [league] do not perform significantly better than Australian counterparts."
True North defines emotional connection as a combination of pride, trust, enjoyment, respect and bond, expressed through attendance, membership, TV viewing, sponsor impact, subscriptions, social media following, merchandise and advocacy.
The research polled nearly 5000 Australian and NZ residents, aged over 16.
The top four Australian teams were all women's sides, with the Matildas footballers, rugby sevens and Diamonds netballers all beating out the men's T20 cricketers and Boomers basketballers. The Wallabies rugby team languished at 12th.
Just before sport closed down for coronavirus, the women cricketers captured the nation's hearts with victory at the T20 World Cup, staged on home soil. More than 86,000 attended the final against India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The research shows fans remain as committed to their favourite teams as they were before COVID-19 struck, but the women showed more initiative to retain their followings during lockdown.
"Women athletes are particularly aware of the perilous situation that the pandemic has caused for their sport," says True North director Georgie Maynard.
"They have been active during isolation, recognising they had their own role to play in ensuring the future of their sport, be it through salary cuts, keeping fan engagement levels up and working with sponsors of their sports."
Other insights showed the presence of NBA prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton helped strengthen the connection with their respective Aussie NBL teams, Illawarra Hawks and NZ Breakers.