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URC scores 34.6m viewers during first season post relaunch

DHL Stormers' grand final win over Vodacom Bulls hit 1.25m viewers.

17 August 2022 Tom Bassam

Getty Images

  • URC 2021/22 season saw 169% increase in broadcast audience on previous Pro14 campaign
  • Per game, club rugby union competition averaged 230k viewers 

More than 34 million fans tuned into the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC) season as the rugby union club competition enjoyed a successful first season since its rebrand.

The 2021/22 URC campaign set broadcast records for the regular season, playoffs and the final itself. The Italian market reported its largest ever audience dating back to the Magners League days, with a cumulative viewership of 1.6 million.

According to Nielsen Sports data, the audience for the entire 2021/22 URC season reached a high mark of 34.6 million across its more than 7,000 hours of coverage, up 169 per cent compared to the previous Pro14 and Rainbow Cup campaigns combined.

The cumulative average per game audience during the season was 230,000, up 109 per cent year-over-year (YoY). The cumulative audience figure of 2.89 million also marked the highest audience for a single round in the league’s history.

Four rounds eclipsed an audience of two million, seven rounds drew more than 1.5 million and six of the remaining seven rounds all scored a minimum of one million viewers. Taken as an average across the whole regular season, the average audience per round was 1.7 million.

The most watched game in the regular season was Cell C Sharks’ 23-17 win over Ospreys, which saw a combined audience of more than 581,000 tune in across BBC Wales, SuperSport and Premier Sports. Six games in the regular season scored more than 500,000 viewers.

The grand final saw 1.25 million tune in to watch DHL Stormers beat Vodacom Bulls to win the title and set a new record for the league decider. Despite being an all-South African matchup, 41 per cent of the audience came from outside of that territory, with RTÉ’s live coverage in the Republic of Ireland accounting for 15 per cent.

The playoffs also set a record for viewership, with a cumulative audience of 3.8 million across the seven games. DHL Stormers’ win over Ulster in the semi-final drew the biggest audience, with more than 754,000 viewers. Leinster’s defeat at the same stage to Vodacom Bulls drew 472,000. Including the final, the average audience per game in the postseason was 537,000.

Martin Anayi, URC chief executive, said: “We are blown away by the broadcast audiences in the first season of the United Rugby Championship. It is a tremendous credit to the standard of rugby displayed by our teams and players and the superb work done by our broadcasters to showcase that talent.

“The URC offers a diversity in playing styles and cultures across two hemispheres that is unique in club rugby and we can see that fans in the north and south have been attracted to that. With a mix of free-to-air and pay-TV coverage allied to our increased presence in South Africa and record figures in Italy we have found a very effective formula to grow interest in our league and the sport of rugby union.”

SportsPro says…

A 169 per cent YoY increase in broadcast audience marks a huge uplift for the URC on the prior Pro14 season and illustrates how bold decision making on not just the rebrand, but also the decision to include South African teams, can pay off.

Interestingly, there were no numbers shared for the URC TV global over-the-top (OTT) platform, but it would be a surprise for that platform not to make a significant contribution during the 2022/23 campaign.  

These numbers should also provide encouragement for Viaplay, which has inherited the URC UK rights contract via its acquisition of Premier Sports

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