Soweto final makes inroads for rugby

4 June 2010

The Vodacom Bulls’ victory over the Stormers in the Super 14 final in Soweto last weekend not only broke boundaries as the biggest rugby game ever to take place in a township; it broke South African television records as well.

Figures released on Thursday by BMI Sport Info, South Africa’s leading independent sport and sponsorship research company, showed that rugby made significant inroads into the country’s black population, with black viewers accounting for almost 30 percent of the total viewing audience.

According to the viewership figures, a new record viewing audience of 2.9-million South Africans of 16 years and older watched the final between the Bulls and Stormers at Orlando Stadium on television.

More than doubled

This more than doubled the 1.4-million viewers that watched the 2009 final between the Bulls and the Chiefs.

The historical significance of the game prompted SABC to also broadcast the game live, and it had an immediate effect on viewership, tapping a new wealth of rugby fans.

The total recorded audience was also considerably higher than the 950 000 adults who watched the Bulls’ semi-final clash the week before.

Around 60 percent of fans watched the match on SABC2 and 40% on Supersport, allowing for a significant growth in black viewership, which increased by 127% compared to the 2009 Super 14 final.

Significant boost

The total black viewership was over 840 000, almost 30 percent of the total audience and a significant boost to the sport in the country.

“These amazing figures show there is a significant support base for rugby amongst black viewers and the historic move to use Orlando Stadium for the semi-finals and finals of the Vodacom Super 14 was a positive move,” BMI’s Johan Grobler said of the figures.

“And the growth wasn’t only amongst black South Africans, as there was also a significant jump among female viewers – with figures increasing 140% from those in the 2009 finals.

“For the first time, ladies outnumbered the men by accounting for 51 percent of the viewers.”

Soweto’s influence

Clearly, the success of the Bulls semi-final win over the Crusaders and the excitement and hype surrounding the final in Soweto, along with the mouth-watering clash between two of the oldest South African rivals, played a major part.

Despite the record viewership represented by the TAMS rating, according to BMI’s James Monteith the actual audience figure is much higher, if you take into account the social aspect of watching a massive final together with friends.

“Out of home viewing by people with no private access to a TV or purely because it’s more fun watching at a venue with friends, can add substantially to the total audience,” Monteith said.

“This can add an additional 50% to the audience for events with no broadcast on free to air TV, and between 23% and 35% for events that are broadcast on free to air TV.

“With out of home viewing added to the recorded television audiences, the total number that watched the final is likely closer to 3.7-million adults.


“An all-South African final with the added excitement of it being hosted in Soweto added to the interest in the match, but it only continued a trend we had seen all season,” said Oregan Hoskins, the president of the South African Rugby Union (SARU).

“The audience was up 38% in February and continued to increase every week over the tournament – even before the Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Stormers emerged as the tournament’s pace-setters.

“We’re seeing sustained and unprecedented levels of interest in rugby. Our players and coaches have led the way with their performances on the field.

“Supporters like to follow successful teams and associate with winners, and our teams have certainly been that.”

Improved quality of rugby

Hoskins added that the emphasis law makers had placed on interpretations to encourage ball-in-hand play and cut down on scrum resets, improving the quality of rugby had had an impact.

The audience for the final was 55% higher than last year’s final and 28% higher than the Sharks and Vodacom Bulls final in 2007. Thirty-one matches had audiences of more than half-a-million viewers compared to only 13 in 2009.

Hoskins added: “Congratulations to the Vodacom Bulls on winning the title and retaining it for South Africa – the trophy was one of the big attractions of the Champion Tour with which we began the year.

“People flocked to share in the success of rugby at first hand and thanks to our Vodacom Super 14 teams we’ve had a marvellous start to the year.”

SAinfo reporter

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