A record one million viewers tuned in for last weekend’s second round of the 2021-22 season of the United Rugby Championship, the revamped Europe-based rugby union clubs competition.
Average viewership across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa has so far been significantly up on what was forecast, and the URC is on course to comfortably break its viewing figure records for the season.
The largest peak audience so far this season was 308,000, drawn for the match between Ireland's Munster and South African side DHL Stormers on Saturday (2 October).
The average peak viewership across the five most-watched games so far this season has been 255,000.
The new record comes just a week after the URC had broken its existing viewership record of 853,511 during the opening round of the season.
Speaking after that milestone was set, Martin Anayi, the chief executive of URC, said the league was targeting over one million domestic viewers per round “very quickly”. Even Anayi is unlikely to have expected to have achieved that target by the following week, however.
Discussing the new record, he said: “To break our stated goal of one million viewers in a single round this soon is a terrific vote of confidence from our fans and is a tremendous boost to our clubs and broadcasters. The biggest days of the URC season are still to come and this sets a great foundation to build our audiences and grow the sport.”
URC has noted that some of the most significant games of the season are still to come.
The league’s viewership success so far this season has been credited in part to its new hybrid broadcasting model, which comprises free-to-air (FTA), pay-TV, and over-the-top (OTT) distribution, and also in part due to new FTA coverage agreements.
Italy’s Mediaset has made its debut as a broadcast partner for the 2020-21 season following a deal announced last month, and Ireland’s RTÉ and BBC Wales have both returned as FTA partners for the league.
They join existing FTA broadcast partners TG4 (Ireland), S4C (Wales) and BBC Northern Ireland.
In addition, this is the first season in which 16 teams have contested the league proper since 2002-03 in its Celtic League guise.
The Pro14 Rainbow Cup end-of-season competition for the 2020-21 campaign played between April and June this year also featured 16 teams, but across a two-league format with a final between the winners of each.