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.