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The launch of the United Rugby Championship (URC) last weekend attracted a record number of viewers for a single league round.
Early figures show that domestic audiences alone surpassed the old global record of 853,511 from a derby round in 2017/18 and will continue to climb until all consolidated reports and international viewing figures are in.
Round 1 of the URC represented the first airing for the league’s new hybrid model of Free-to-Air (FTA), Pay TV and OTT which is geared towards making the sport as accessible as possible in its core territories and in international markets.
FTA is a fundamental component of the URC’s new broadcast strategy and rooted in fan feedback projects which identified increased FTA coverage in domestic markets as a priority for the new league.
Round 1 saw the return of RTÉ and BBC Wales which complemented the reach of existing partners TG4 and S4C while BBC Northern Ireland will screen league action once again when they begin their coverage in Round 3.
Mediaset also made its debut in Italy as FTA access made a welcome return with a strong opening audience.
In the UK, Premier Sports continue to be the only place to watch all 151 URC games live while they also began their Irish coverage for the first time.
SuperSport brought the new league into the homes of fans in South Africa for the first time as all four of their teams made their bow in the URC.
Round 1 also marked the successful launch of URC TV, the league’s OTT streaming service that is available domestically in the Republic of Ireland and internationally where fans in the US, Australia and many other worldwide territories can watch all their team’s games live and on-demand throughout the season.
Reacting to the record viewership, CEO Martin Anayi, said: “To achieve this milestone based only on domestic viewers in the first weekend proves the interest fans have in our players and teams and we firmly believe we will grow to audiences of over 1 million domestic viewers per round very quickly.
“Round 1 showcased everything the URC can be with fans back in the stadiums watching some thrilling rugby created by so many different playing styles.
“We saw sharp presentation across all of our broadcasters who do a terrific job in bringing the stories of our games and players to life with engaging personalities and insightful analysis.
“In a ground-breaking move for our league, we saw the launch of URC TV which allows us to offer fans across the world a direct channel to watch their favourite teams on their terms.”