It's nearly time! The moment fans of EFL clubs can really start the countdown to the next nine months of compelling football...It can only be fixture release day!
The fixture compilation prior to the big day – this year it's Wednesday 22nd June, at 9am – doesn't happen overnight, and we wanted to give you the chance to ask the main man behind the process some questions to get more of an insight into what happens.
So, after collecting your questions on Twitter and via Facebook, we caught up with Competitions Manager Paul Snellgrove, who has extensive experience of compiling the fixtures, to get some answers.
When does the fixture compilation process start for any one season and can you explain the process in more detail?
The process usually starts in November, when we have our first fixtures working party meeting. There, clubs get the chance to review the draft schedule and the policies put in place for the compilation process for the following season.
The working party consists of officers from the EFL, the Premier League and the Football Association, along with a cross section of club representatives – two from the Premier League, two from the Sky Bet Championship, one from Sky Bet League One and one from Sky Bet League Two.
Also, the Football Supporters' Federation are represented as well as the fixture compilers Atos. Atos are an outside IT contractor who run the fixture compiling software, which is unique.
We then meet again in March, which is when schedules and policies are finalised prior to the compilation. At that point, all clubs are sent a fixtures questionnaire which is their chance to have their say on their fixtures for next season regarding specific dates and pairing arrangements.
Clubs have the opportunity to submit date requests. They all have local events taking place to take into consideration – music festivals, race meetings, rugby matches, international fixtures, political party conferences – and we try to avoid all of those.
With every date request that's met, there's a knock-on effect somewhere else which may have a bearing on that club's home and away sequence, or the number of midweek matches they get that are at home or away. So we have to weigh up every date request on its merits.
Each request has an impact on not only that club's fixtures, but the club they pair with, and if they're in a multi-club policing area, then those clubs also. In the West Midlands, for example, one date request will have an effect on all six clubs within that area. It's a case of knitting together a web.
In all, we have around 80 date requests across 72 EFL clubs, and the Premier League have more on top of that. We do achieve an extremely high percentage of date requests, though, to make things easier for the clubs and police forces involved.
Midweek fixtures are always a big talking point...
During our extensive review process we do look at all long journeys significantly and try to achieve the best solution overall. We will try and balance it out – if a club has five away trips, we'll do our best to make sure three or four out of those five aren't excessive in distance.
One or two might be, but it will never be a case of every away trip being long distance, as we will always try to achieve a balance over a batch of away trips. Ultimately we do our utmost to avoid excessive journeys for supporters.
We tend to schedule the most local games for weekends rather than midweek as that approach helps to maximise attendances at games across the season.
Is that the same regarding local games on the opening day?
The opening day is considered a key date – along with Boxing Day, New Year's Day and the final day. We try to avoid local fixtures on these dates to allow clubs to minimise costs. Doing so helps to keep the profile of the fixture down, so the police categorisation, and therefore cost, is relatively low. Clubs prefer to avoid local derbies on key dates because they will be well attended regardless of when they are played.
We were also asked why there aren't local derbies over Christmas...
The answer to the previous questions applies again here. We always keep fans in mind, particularly over Christmas to try and keep the away fixtures within a reasonable distance. There's also the consideration that these matches are on bank holidays, which bring increased police costs to the home clubs. And a local derby on a key date would increase the profile, and therefore the cost, even more.
Do you take into account which games were played last year on key dates?
Yes, we do. We monitor key dates over a five-year period for all clubs to try and achieve a good mix of home and away fixtures, and look to avoid duplication of fixtures from previous years on those dates.
One of the main questions this year is why are the EFL fixtures being released a week after the Premier League fixtures?
The whole process takes 23 days in total after the last Play-Off Final. The Premier League approached us at the beginning of the process to say they were going to be bringing theirs forward.
We felt it vitally important that Clubs and supporters receive the best possible fixture list, therefore we opted to retain the time available to us in order to achieve this. Of course a by-product of this process is that the focus will now be on the EFL fixtures come 22nd June.
It's the first time that the EFL schedule has been released at a different time to the Premier League. A lot was dependent on clubs involved in the Championship Play-Offs so that was why we were relatively late announcing the fixture release dates.
When will Sky Sports be announcing their live broadcast selections?
This year, the live match TV selections for opening weekend will be released with the fixtures on 22nd June at 9.00am. The following weekend’s selections will then be made in the following days. We have looked to make improvements to the announcement process this year, and the EFL will be announcing the release dates for live selections throughout the season in due course.
There will be a number of live fixtures from the opening weekend matches. We are starting a week before the Premier League so as ever we are seeking to showcase the EFL with live opportunities across that weekend.
The final day fixtures will again see live TV coverage, with the date and kick-off time for all three divisions of the Sky Bet EFL being announced next week.
Has the rebrand had any effect on the fixture compilation process?
It's obviously a higher profile release day than normal, being the first one as the EFL. But, in terms of the process, it hasn't had any effect.
When is the EFL Cup draw?
Details will be announced soon, so watch this space!
And what about the EFL Trophy draw?
We will have further details on when this will be in due course.
How will you deal with any potential fixture congestion?
When we put the schedule together and put it to clubs we devise a schedule to try and alleviate congestion as much as possible from the outset. When mapping out the season, and when rearranging during the season, congestion is something we seek to avoid as much as possible. It is somewhat unavoidable when clubs progress in competitions and are successful, however.
There was a fixture list released on social media a week or two ago – can you confirm this was a hoax?
Yes I can, it was a hoax. Whilst it looked a good effort, on closer inspection, there were a number of fixtures that wouldn't be permitted with regards to the pairings of clubs.
What's next, after the 2016/17 fixtures are released?
We're very much tied up with 2016/17 fixtures over the next couple of weeks, then once they're released, clubs have a 10-day period to request any changes to kick-off times, and minor day changes to Friday night or Sunday, then it's a case of getting them finalised and re-submitting the finished list.
We also review the software every season and try to come up with enhancements. This is all to try and improve the process for the clubs. Often you can go round in circles and waves – what's in fashion one season goes out of fashion the next. It's a case of sticking to principles and seeing what can be improved, season on season.
Once that's complete, we'll then go again and look ahead to 2017/18!
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