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URC statement: 'Blown away' by TV audiences for the 2021/22 season

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images)

URC champions DHL Stormers were the most viewed team in the league last season with a total TV audience coming in at over 7.2million viewers, but a round three match in Wales between Ospreys and C Cell Sharks was the most watched regular season game in 2021/22. That fixture last October, which was won 27-13 by the South African club, scored a combined audience of 581k on BBC Wales, SuperSport and Premier Sports.

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After tallying the viewership figures from Nielsen Sports reports, more than 34m people tuned in at some stage across the URC campaign last season. A total of 1.25m watched the Stormers defeat Vodacom Bulls in the final in June, Munster appeared five times in the top ten list of most watched regular season games, while the five most-watched regular season derby matches in the five country league all took place in Ireland.  

A URC statement read: “Over 34 million fans tuned into the inaugural United Rugby Championship season as the league set a number of major broadcast records in its first campaign.

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“With records set for the season-long audience, playoff viewers and the URC grand final itself, it is clear that the new 16-team league has caught the imagination of rugby fans across the northern and southern hemispheres.

“Despite reducing the regular season to 18 rounds, the strong viewership numbers produced across the UK, Ireland and South Africa prove that less is more. In a further boost, Italy reported their largest audiences ever while international rights coverage and the launch of the URC.tv streaming service bolstered the global total.”

URC CEO Martin Anayi said: “We are blown away by the broadcast audiences in the first season of the 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 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.”

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URC 2021/22 TV SEASON BY NUMBERS
Regular Season
Thanks to the consolidated reports from Nielsen Sports, URC have confirmed that the audience for the entire 2021/22 season reached a high mark of 34.6m across 7,000-plus hours of coverage. That figure of 34.6m was an increase of 169 per cent compared to the 2020/21 PRO14 and Rainbow Cup campaigns combined.

  • The cumulative average audience per game during the season was 230k, which represented a 109 per cent increase on 20/21;
  • A cumulative audience of almost 3m people tuned into round three, with the figure of 2,892,000 setting a new record for the highest audience for a single round in the league’s history;
  • In total, four rounds eclipsed an audience of 2m, seven rounds drew more than 1.5m and six of the remaining seven rounds all attracted a minimum viewership of 1m;
  • The average audience per round in the regular season was 1.7m;
  • The cumulative audience from Italy was 1.6m.

URC grand final and playoffs
The first-ever URC grand final, which took place in Cape Town between the Stormers and the Bulls, set a new TV milestone for the league. A total of 1.25m watched the Stormers win their first URC title and set a new record for the league decider. Although the final was an all-South African affair, 41 per cent of the audience came from outside of the territory with RTE’s live coverage in Ireland accounting for 15 per cent.

This trend of interest was a hallmark of the entire URC playoffs which also set a record for viewership with 3.8m across seven games. The largest viewership for the playoffs came in the Stormers versus Ulster semi-final where the audience hit 754k while the other last-four encounter between Leinster and the Bulls drew 472k. Including the URC final, the average audience per playoff game was 537k

Top ten most-watched regular season games
Munster featured five times, the Sharks were involved in three with Ospreys, Ulster and the Stormers appearing twice. The most watched game in the regular season was Ospreys’ round three game with the Sharks which was viewed by a combined audience of 581k on BBC Wales, SuperSport and Premier Sports.

  1. R3 Ospreys v Cell C Sharks  580,026
  2. R3 Cardiff v Vodacom Bulls 560,886
  3. R2 Munster v DHL Stormers 538,909
  4. R6 Cell C Sharks v Scarlets 531,421
  5. R10 Munster v Ulster 523,707
  6. R4 Munster v Connacht 521,110
  7. R1 Munster v Cell C Sharks 484,267
  8. R5 Ospreys v Munster 480,652
  9. R4 Ulster v Emirates Lions 468,993
  10. R4 Dragons v DHL Stormers 445,471

Most watched clubs
Helped by their appearance in the URC final, the Stormers were the most viewed team in the league with their total audience of over 7.2m. The URC champions were followed by the Bulls, Munster, the Sharks and Leinster for audiences across the entire season.

The Stormers and Munster were the most watched teams in South Africa and Ireland respectively with Ospreys leading the interest in Wales, Benetton No1 in Italy and Edinburgh topping the pile in Scotland.

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Top five derby audiences
The most watched derby games of the season all took place in Ireland, with Munster’s round ten clash with Ulster drawing in 523k for a game that was also No5 in the list of top ten most watched in the regular season. Munster also featured in four of the top five derby audiences.

  1. R10 Munster v Ulster 523,707
  2. R4 Munster v Connacht 521,110
  3. R16 Ulster v Munster 428,709
  4. R15 Munster v Leinster 402,534
  5. R6 Leinster v Ulster 401,603 

Top five games from South Africa

  1. R6 Cell C Sharks v Scarlets 531,421
  2. R17 DHL Stormers v Leinster 417,323
  3. R7 Emirates Lions v Munster 394,416
  4. R16 Cell C Sharks v Leinster 361,290
  5. R17 Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors 323,386

Top five games from Ireland

  1. R2 Munster v DHL Stormers 538,909
  2. R10 Munster v Ulster 523,707
  3. R4 Munster v Connacht 521,110
  4. R1 Munster v Cell C Sharks 484,267
  5. R4 Ulster v Emirates Lions 468,993

Top five games from Italy

  1. R11 Zebre v Munster 439,701
  2. R1 Zebre v Emirates Lions 295,647
  3. R1 Benetton v DHL Stormers 213,754
  4. R10 Benetton v Cell C Sharks 202,283
  5. R4 Benetton v Ospreys 196,817

Top five games from Scotland

  1. R3 Edinburgh v DHL Stormers 382,185
  2. R3 Glasgow Warriors v Emirates Lions 363,674
  3. R4 Edinburgh v Vodacom Bulls 260,448
  4. R5 Glasgow Warriors v Leinster 224,494
  5. R2 Glasgow Warriors v Cell C Sharks 209,027

Top five games from Wales

  1. R3 Ospreys v Cell C Sharks 580,026
  2. R3 Cardiff v Vodacom Bulls 560,886
  3. R5 Ospreys v Munster 480,652
  4. R4 Dragons v DHL Stormers 445,471
  5. R3 Scarlets v Munster 330,313

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