More people watched Wales’ historic Six Nations victory over England on the BBC than either of Manchester United’s FA Cup victories over Arsenal and Chelsea as the UK was gripped by Saturday evening’s tense affair in Cardiff.
With the grudge match between the two rivals taking place at 4:45pm on Saturday evening, a peak of 8.9m viewers tuned into the Six Nations encounter, which went down to the wire as Wales finally clinched victory with a 79th-minute try from wing Josh Adams.
In total, nearly half of available viewers to BBC One watched the match at the Principality Stadium, which shows the scale in interest in the tournament at a time when the future of internal rugby and how it is bea,ed around the world is facing extra scrutiny due to the uncertainty that lies ahead.
To put these figures into comparison, last week’s FA Cup clash between Manchester United and Chelsea on Monday 18 February hit a peak audience of 8.1m, with a 38.3% of available BBC One viewers, while United’s fourth round victory over Arsenal hit a high of 7.6m.
Saturday’s other Six Nations match saw France host Scotland at the Stade de France, with the BBC enjoying a peak audience of 4.2m.
The incredible numbers come at a time when the Six Nations unions are in advanced talks about a new deal that would revolutionise the broadcasting of international rugby in Europe, and scupper World Rugby’s plans for a new World League.
The six unions involved in the competitions are understood to be sceptical about how a new global tournament would be set-up and implemented along with pooling broadcasting and commercial rights.
Their desire to see the Six Nations remain on terrestrial free-to-air television, along with maximising the value of broadcasting the in-demand matches, has seen secret talks be held about a new model for all home games during the tournament as well as in the autumn.
However, while the Six Nations is likely to remain on free-to-air TV, the autumn internationals is set to be shared across terrestrial and pay-per-view platforms depending on negotiations.
The talks also have the potential to upset the southern hemisphere nations that have been open to the idea of a new World League and the broadcasting potential that could come with it, given the current issues surrounding broadcast income in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina as well as the tier two nations.
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