Record-breaking crowds in URC round 8 as SA rugby sets the precedent

South Africa’s rugby dominance continued as the Vodacom United Rugby Championship shattered attendance records, reaching 135,747 fans in Round 8, surpassing last season’s record. South African derbies drew nearly 60,000 spectators, highlighting the success of local franchises in boosting both broadcast numbers and stadium attendance. This follows a record 1.6 million total attendance for the 2022/23 season. The league’s chief executive praised clubs’ innovation, collaboration, and engaging match-day experiences. The focus now turns to the Champions and Challenge Cups, where South African teams aim to showcase their improvements on the international stage.

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South Africa’s rugby franchises again led the way as the Vodacom United Rugby Championship broke another attendance record this past weekend, with the two local derbies accounting for almost half of the total figure. 

The figure of 135 747 – which was topped up by the delayed Hollywoodbets Sharks-Emirates Lions derby in Durban this weekend, took the figure way past the 123 207 which was set last season in round 11.

Considering almost 60 000 of those fans for the one round came from the two South African derbies, it underlines again the success of South African franchises joining the league and not only bolstering the broadcast numbers but also fans in stadiums as well.

The tally could only be completed after the Sharks-Lions game, but stands for the round that was traditionally played before and after Christmas, and almost 20 000 fans flocked to the Durban game to put it over the top.

This comes off the back of a record 1.6million total attendance for the 2022/23 Vodacom URC season which also saw the highest-ever crowd for the league’s Grand Final (56,334) while an all-time high of 37.4million watched across the campaign.

Of the first seven games of Round eight, it was the DHL Stormers derby with the Vodacom Bulls that attracted 39 925 to the DHL Stadium in Cape Town that was the biggest crowd figure, followed by the 25 600 that went to Thomond Park to watch Leinster against Munster.

Other games saw Glasgow Warriors sold out their first leg 1872 Cup clash with Edinburgh while Zebre Parma recorded their largest crowd for a league game in Parma since 2014.

In addition, Cardiff Rugby put up the sold-out signs for the game against Dragons, a close to capacity crowd took in Connacht’s visit to Ulster and Scarlets had a season-high number of fans in to add their voices to the West Wales derby against Ospreys.

“This is a major positive not only for the Vodacom URC but for the sport of rugby. Our clubs are innovating and collaborating to grow their crowds and attract new fans to rugby and this fantastic achievement speaks to their work throughout the season,” URC chief executive Martin Anayi said in reaction.

“Fans are turning up more often across Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Wales because of the engaging match-day experiences at our clubs and the competitiveness and jeopardy of the Vodacom URC. I would also give great credit to our broadcast partners who understand how vital kick-off times are in allowing our teams to maximise their attendances and create memorable occasions.

“We’ve seen great drama across the festive season and it’s very encouraging to see the interest in Vodacom URC continue to grow in what is shaping up to be our best season yet.”

All eyes will now be on the final fixture of R9 which will be played on January 27 where the Vodacom Bulls host the Emirates Lions at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. The standing total for that round is 119,414 and a crowd beyond 16,334 would break this latest attendance record yet again.

The South African franchises will now turn their attention to conquering the Champions and Challenge Cup, which has already seen improvements in performances this season. While the Stormers beat defending champions La Rochelle in Cape Town and the Bulls downed Saracens in Pretoria, arguable just as impressive performances have been from the Lions to win in Perpignan and invitation franchise, the Toyota Cheetahs winning against both Zebre and the Sharks in their opening two games of the Challenge Cup. 

The Bulls also went close to upsetting Lyon at home and the Stormers were close to a win with a depleted side at Leicester Tigers, showing the South African franchises are learning from their experience in Europe.

This weekend marks two tough games for the Stormers and the Bulls, the latter traveling to Bristol Bears while the Stormers host a Sale Sharks side that is likely to have a lot of South African flavour about it.

Considering the Champions and Challenge Cups are still new to South African audiences, the success can only help lure fans into the stadiums to see some world class action.

In the Challenge Cup the Cheetahs will also break new ground with a reported sold out crowd to watch them face Section Palois (Pau) in Amsterdam this weekend while the Lions have a tough task heading to Montpellier, the latter who are the only side with 10 points from their opening two games.

In the other weekend fixture the Sharks face French side Oyannax in Durban and will be hoping for some better fortunes than they have had in recent weeks.

Round 8 – Attendance by fixture

Ulster v Connacht: 15,365

Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh: 7,172

Zebre Parma v Benetton: 4,701

DHL Stormers v Vodacom Bulls: 39,925

Cardiff Rugby v Dragons RFC: 12,000

Scarlets v Ospreys: 11,282

Munster v Leinster: 25,600

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Emirates Lions: 19,703

Total attendance: 135,747

Previous best single round attendances:

123,307 – Round 11 of the 2022/23 season

121,117 – Round 21 of the 2017/18 season

117,448 – Round 10 of the 2022/23 season

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