K League Season to Kick Off May 8

Photo Credit: @kleague on Instagram.

Editor’s Note : All of us here at the Tavern are sending out positive thoughts and prayers as the world deals with the COVID19 Pandemic. We hope you are staying safe and healthy. We will get through this pandemic together and watch the Beautiful Game again soon.

As the COVID19 pandemic continues to affect the world, we finally did receive some good news this week. As South Korea has continued their strong response to the pandemic, the government this week gave permission for both the domestic baseball league, the KBO, and the K League to begin play in May. The KBO will have Opening Day on May 5 and then the K League will open play on May 8. Since the K League will be one of the few football leagues in the world in action (Taiwan, Belarus, Cuba), I will provide a preview of the league season and how to watch matches below.

How has COVID19 impacted the K League?

First of all, the biggest impact COVID19 has had on the K League is the length of the season. Both divisions, the K League 1 and 2, were slated to begin in late February and play a 38 match season. However, since the season has been suspended for the past two months, the K League has agreed that both divisions will now have a 27 match season. For the first division K League 1, the 12 team league will have each team play each other twice for a total of 22 matchdays. Then, the final 5 matchdays will feature a split where places 1-6 play each other for the title and places 7-12 play each other with relegation on the line. In the 10 team K League 2, each team will play each other three times.

With COVID19 concerns in mind, there will be some precautions taken to ensure that there is no further spread of the virus. For the foreseeable future, matches will be played behind closed doors without fans. The K League has said that as social distancing guidelines are relaxed they will plan to open up sections of stadiums at a time to make sure fans can watch safely. In addition, players will have some safety guidelines during the match. There will be no pre-match handshakes, players will be discouraged from spitting, coaches will be asked to wear masks, and players will be asked not to communicate or crowd the ref. After the match, the players and coaches will complete post match interviews on the pitch or in the stands at a safe distance instead of in a stadium mixed zone, just to prevent crowding.

In the event a player or coach does test positive for COVID19 during the season, that team’s matches will be postponed for two weeks. In addition, that team’s recent opponents will also have a two week suspension. For more information on the COVID19 precautions, read the official K League guidelines here.

K League 1 and 2 Clubs

We know that there could possibly be many new fans of the K League now that it will be one of the few leagues in play, so it seems a good idea to introduce the clubs briefly for new fans.

With 22 teams competing in the first and second division of the K League, there is a team for everyone. For example, I think it has been well documented that I am huge fan of Incheon United. However, to leave bias out of this, I will defer to K League United, who follow the ins and outs of the leagues. They’ve provided a primer on the K League 1 clubs here; for the K League 2, check out their guide here. Get active in the comments with your favorite team or ask questions about what club to support and where national team players are in the KLeague. I’ll do my best to answer questions in the comments.

How will Promotion and Relegation work?

This 2020 season will have an unusual wrinkle in it because of the circumstances surrounding the military club Sangju Sangmu. Normally, the last-placed K League 1 is relegated and the champion of the K League 2 is promoted. Then, the 2nd-4th place K League 2 clubs have a pyramid-style playoff to eventually contest a two-legged playoff final with the 11th-placed K League 1 side. However, this year has a special circumstance in place because Sangju Sangmu will relocate after this 2020 season.

At the end of the season, Sangju City’s agreement with Korea’s Army Athletic Corps expires so Sangju Sangmu will relocate and compete in the K League 2 in 2021. In addition, Sangju City will form a new citizen club that will also play in the K League 2, similar to what Asan did with Chungnam Asan FC. This will mean 11 teams will compete in the K League 2 in 2021, and it’s been reported that a 12th K League 2 team will start play in Cheonan in 2022. As a result of this expansion, the relegation rules for this year are a little complicated so here’s the official K League release below:

In the 2020 season, if Sangju Sangmu records a lowest-place finish (12th) in K League 1, Sangju and the winners of K League 2 will swap places, and the 11th-ranked K League 1 team and the K League 2 playoff winners will play off against each other. If Sangju Sangmu is not the lowest-ranked team in K League 1, two teams will be automatically relegated; Sangju and the team which finishes bottom of K League 1. In this eventuality, there will be no promotion/relegation playoff.


What this means is that should Sangju Sangmu finish in 12th place, they will be relagated as the last-placed club usually would be. Then, the 11th-placed K League 1 club will contest the two-legged promotion/relegation playoff with the K League 2 playoff winner for a place in K League 1 for the 2021 season. However, should Sangju Sangmu finish anywhere other than 12th in the league, they will still get relegated to the K League 2. In that case, Sangju Sangmu and the last-place club will be relegated. For promotion, the champion of the K League 2 and the playoff winner will be promoted. In this case, the K League 2 playoff winner will get automatically promoted instead of having to play the promotion/relegation final.

How do I watch the KLeague?

This one is actually somewhat up in the air at the moment. Talking to our friend Steve Han, he has reported that the K League currently does not have a domestic or global broadcast partner in place at the moment. He has detailed that there might be a broadcast deal struck with domestic channel JTBC here. If that deal is announced soon, it is very likely that matches will be broadcasted on Naver TV. We have a handy guide for how to use Korean streaming sites like Naver TV, VPNs, and other sites for watching football here.

Before the season began, the K League actually signed two content partnerships that should result in more coverage of the league abroad. On a more behind the scenes level, the league has become a partner of Dugout so if you are familiar with that I believe the K League will be posting post-match interviews and other content on Dugout. However, the bigger news was the fact that the K League announced a partnership with Sportradar. The language in the press release is somewhat vague so we don’t know what the deal exactly entails, but you can read more on that here. Hopefully the partnership means that a global streaming deal with DAZN, BeIn, OneSoccer, ESPN+, or another OTT sports streaming service is imminent. The K League has the unique opportunity of being a growing football league that can use this chance during the COVID19 pandemic to grow their global profile. Fans might be very surprised to see the quality of play in the league and hopefully there will be an easy way for football-starved fans to watch the league soon. We will keep you updated with any more K League news we have in the coming weeks and will cover the league via our Twitter, @taegeuktavern, and on our podcast as well. We’re very excited to have football back soon and we hope you join us in watching the K League.

About Michael Welch 89 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).


  1. I’ll start out the comment section by naming notable players, either from various KNT levels or foreign players, for each K League 1 and K League 2 club, to the best of my ability.

    K League 1 (From North to South):

    FC Seoul: Kim Jinya (U23 KNT), Cho Youngwook (U20 KNT), Han Chanhee (U23 KNT), Hwang Hyunsoo, Yoon Jonggyu, Han Seunggyu (2018 Young POTY), Ju Sejong (KNT), Park Chuyoung, Aleksandar Pešić, Osmar, Ikromjon Alibaev, Adriano.

    Incheon United (my favorite team): Gordon Bunoza, Rashid Mahazi, Kim Junbeom (U23 KNT fringe), Stefan Mugosa, Muhammed Kehinde, Song Siwoo (clutch hero known for 시우타임 celebration).

    Gangwon FC: Lee Gwangyeon (U20 KNT GK), Han Kookyoung, Cho Jaewan, Kim Hyunwook, Kang Jihoon, Jung Seokhwa, Jo Jihoon, Kim Seungdae.

    Suwon Samsung Bluewings: No Donggeun (GK), Hong Chul, Doneil Henry, Terry Antonis, Yeom Kihun, Kim Minwoo, Adam Taggart, Sulejman Krpić.

    Seongnam FC: Kim Youngkwang (legendary GK), Heo Jaung (U23 GK), Seo Bomin, Kim Donghyun (U23 KNT), Choi Ohback, Kis Tomislav.

    Sangju Sangmu: Lee Changgeun (GK), Kwon Kyungwon (KNT), Moon Changjin (Rio Olympics), Moon Seonmin (KNT), Oh Sehun (U23 KNT), Jeon Sejin (U20 KNT).

    Daegu FC: Hwang Taehyeon (U20 KNT), Kim Jaewoo, Jeong Taewook (U23 KNT), Ko Jaehyeon (U20 KNT), Lee Jinhyeon (fringe KNT), Nishi Tsubasa, Ryu Jaemun, Hwang Sunmin, Edgar, Cesinha, Dejan Damjanovic, Kim Daewon, Jung Seungwon (U23 KNT).

    Pohang Steelers: Kang Hyunmu (Former U23 KNT GK), Lee Seungmo (2017 U20 KNT), Brandon O’Neill, Aleksandar Palocevic, Manuel Palacios, Stanislav Iljutcenko.

    Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC: Song Bumkeun (U23 KNT GK), Lee Yong, Kim Jinsu, Hong Jeongho, Oh Bansuk, Kim Minhyeok, Kim Bokyung, Takahiro Kunimoto, Jang Yunho (Asian Games), Lee Soobin (U22 standout last season), Jo Gyuseong (U23 KNT), Lee Donggook (KNT Legend), Lars Veldwijk.

    Ulsan Hyundai FC: Jo Hyeonwoo, Kim Keehee, Choi Jun (U20 KNT), Jeong Seunghyun (KNT), Park Jooho, Dave Bulthuis, Jason Davidson, Lee Chungyong, Won Dujae (U23 KNT), Lee Donggyeong (U23 KNT), Yoon Bitgaram, Lee Sangheon (2017 U20 KNT), Junior Negrao, Lee Keunho, Bjorn Johnsen.

    Gwangju FC (Promoted): Rustam Ashurmatov, Han Heehoon, Um Wonsang (U23 KNT), Marcos Urena, Felipe Silva, Willyan Barbosa, Kim Hyogi.

    Busan IPark FC (Promoted): Kim Hojun, Kim Moonhwan (KNT), Yoon Sukyoung, Dostonbek Tursonov, Park Jongwoo, Romulo, Lee Dongjun (U23 KNT), Lee Jeonghyeop, Jonatan Reis, Gustavo Vintecino.

  2. K League 2 (From North to South):

    Seoul ELand FC: Chung Jungyong (2019 U20 WC Manager), Lee Sangmin (U23 KNT), Lee Siyoung (Asian Games), Lazar Arsic, Richard Sukuta-Pasu, Leandro Ribeiro.

    Bucheon FC 1995: William Barbio, Kwak Haeseong, Jefferson Baiano, Koo Boncheol, Seo Myungwon, Kim Youngnam.

    FC Anyang: Maeng Sungwoong (U23 KNT), Kurshid Giyosov, Nilson Junior, Maurides Junior, Boadu Acosty.

    Ansan Greeners FC: Soony Saad, Felipe Augusto, Ismael Balea, Shin Jaewon, Bruno Soares, Kim Minho.

    Suwon FC: Cho Yumin (Asian Games) Lee Hansaem, Choi Kyubaek (Rio 2016), Marlone, Ishida Masatoshi, Danilo Alves.

    Chungnam Asan FC (formerly Asan Mugunghwa FC): Park Sejik, Kim Chan, Park Minseo, Armin Mujakic, Philip Hellquist.

    Daejeon Hana Citizen (formerly Daejeon Citizen): Connor Chapman, Kim Dongjun (Rio 2016 GK), Bruno Baio, Andre Luis, Park Inhyeok, Kim Seyun (2019 U20 KNT), Lee Jisol (2019 U20 KNT), Lee Seulchan.

    Gyeongnam FC (Relegated from K League 1): Luc Castaignos, Bae Kijong, Hwang Ilsu, Uros Deric, Negueba, Nick Ansell, Kwak Taehwi, Park Kidong.

    Jeonnam Dragons: Lee Youhyeon (U23 KNT), Jeong Hojin (2019 U20 KNT), Hwang Kiwook, Julian Kristofferson, Rodolfo Guimaraes, Lee Jongho.

    Jeju United (Relegated from K League 1): Oh Seunghoon, Valentinos Sielis, Kang Yunsung (U23 KNT), Lee Kyuhyeok (2019 U20 KNT), Lee Changmin, Elias Aguilar, Ahn Hyunbeom, Joo Mingyu, Nam Junjae, Jung Jogook, Eder.

  3. Nice little site you folks have here.

    American here. I like to keep tabs on national teams and leagues outside the core of Europe.

    Korea fascinates me; It’s a power in Asia and seems to bring some great players through to Europe but the K League middles in recognition when compared to it’s Japanese counterpart.

    I know you have already gone over reasons in previous blog posts. But I have a basic question…

    Why are there so many city owned teams in Korea?

    Doesn’t that affect just how much spending can be done on roster building and especially advertising?

    • Hi William,

      Welcome to the Tavern. If it’s your first time here, thanks so much for reading!

      I think that Korea is always a strong national team but sometimes does struggle as a league where the J League doesn’t. Overall, the J League has built a better fan culture so that the league can grow and improve. However, the K League is growing pretty well lately and definitely can catch up with the J League and Chinese Super League in the Asian Champions League.

      To answer your question, the city-owned question sort of ties into two factors: the newness of the league and the flux of new stadiums after the 2002 World Cup. Since Korea is very conglomerate-focused, or chaebol in Korean, there’s not the same tradition of a wealthy entrepreneur owning a club like in Europe or the US. So, after the 2002 World Cup there were a lot of stadiums with no club tenants and most of the interested conglomerates already owned a club. So, city governments stepped in to found clubs, such as Daegu FC, Incheon United FC, and what became Daejeon Hana Citizen (which was city-owned but is now owned by Hana Financial Group), to name a few.

      For your second question, yes it does affect the amount of spending that can be done on roster building and the conglomerate owned teams like Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, FC Seoul, and Suwon Samsung do usually have bigger roster budgets than the city-owned clubs. However, the city-owned clubs invest heavily in youth academies and football centers to develop their own players to offset that imbalance. Daegu FC have especially benefited from their academy developing talented players as they have earned promotion and qualified for the Asian Champions League with these players. In terms of advertising, I don’t think that being city-owned really affects that at all. Local companies always want to sponsor the teams and put their advertising around the stadium and on their kits. For example, Incheon International Airport and Shinhan Bank, both Incheon companies, sponsor Incheon United. Gangwon FC is heavily sponsored by High1 Resort, a ski resort in the Gangwon mountain area. So overall, city-owned clubs can make do if they are savvy with their recruiting, develop good players, and reach out to the local community. But yes, the conglomerate-owned clubs usually win the league.

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  1. Sangju Sangmu: la squadra delle forze armate sudcoreane

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