On Wednesday 21st June 2017, at 9am, the 2017/18 Sky Bet EFL fixtures will be released.
It has been just 23 days since the previous campaign came to a close and the divisional line-ups were confirmed, so we caught up with the EFL's competitions manager, Paul Snellgrove, to talk us through ' the impossible job' and how the fixture compilation process works.
First question then... how are the EFL fixtures processed?
We have an outside IT contractor that both ourselves and the Premier League work with. It’s a long-standing relationship and they’re very experienced in fixture production, understanding how both the league and clubs work.
In essence, the process starts in November, when we have a meeting with the Fixtures Working Party to agree a draft schedule for the forthcoming season. This is then followed up by another meeting in March where processes and policies relating to fixture production are agreed with the clubs, the FA and the Football Supporters Federation.
Then, following the play-off finals, the 'button is pressed' and 10 days later we are presented with a draft fixture list which we then sit down, review and refine before meeting with the Chief Police Officers to discuss safety.
When reviewing the fixtures, do you ever come across any problems?
Yes – over the last couple of days we’ve made hundreds of changes. When we sit down and review the fixtures, we look at key dates for each club; opening day, opening home game, Christmas, Easter and final day. We look at these and whether or not any of them will cause problems for the clubs or the police.
We then look at the local derbies and when these occur, and midweek travel which is by far the most lengthy process of the lot. We try and ensure that most clubs have their local, well attended games on a Saturday to maximise the game for them. Obviously, this is a balancing act trying to find a happy medium on that score.
What is the process for checking the fixture list?
It’s checked manually by the League’s competitions department. We also have a number of reporting tools and reports that are produced by the IT contractor. Repetition of fixtures is something we look at, certainly over the Christmas period.
We compare it to the fixture questionnaires and information that is sent in by clubs and any other information that we accumulate from train companies and police forces regarding events that go on up and down the country that may clash with fixtures in that area.
When will Sky Sports be announcing their live broadcast selections?
The first lot of live TV selections for the opening weekend will be announced on the same day as the fixtures, so Wednesday 21st June. Last season we looked to make a number of improvements to the TV selection announcement process, and in a joint commitment with Sky Sports the EFL vowed to ensure that all clubs are given a minimum of at least five weeks’ (sometimes longer) notice ahead of any matches selected for live TV coverage. This is to give as much notice and to be as fair as possible to supporters who are looking to make travel arrangements to attend these matches.
How do the fixtures actually get released on Fixture Release Day?
The fixtures are sent to each club in advance of the 9am embargo on the day. Each club will then load them onto their website and ensure key personnel around the club are aware of the fixtures, namely the manager and first team staff. Then at 9am the button is pressed and everyone can see the fixtures for the new season.
Why are EFL fixtures released a week later than Premier League fixtures?
This is only the second season where it has happened. We try and work to a three-week turnaround process from the last play-off final. That ensures that our IT contractors have got the requisite time period to produce the list to the highest quality. It also ensures we have time to review the fixtures adequately, and ideally you would like three days to do this.
Then obviously we need to get the meetings set up with the Fixtures Working Party. We feel we require that three-week period to produce the best quality list for clubs and their supporters.
How do you consider long-distance away matches and travel issues during the season?
Largely it is a random process, however we do have travel issues and long-distance trips to consider with supporters in mind. We have a reporting tool that will list each club's away midweek fixtures and home midweek fixtures, and we compare the mileage over those fixtures against the average mileage for the whole division, so the aim is to make sure that a club isn’t doing higher than its average overall mileage midweek.
That said, we also have to consider local derbies and the more well attended fixtures and play these on a weekend.
How do you consider when local derbies are played?
Well it’s obviously done at random to an extent, but local derbies is by far and away the most touched on subject on the club fixture questionnaires. Clubs are very keen to ensure that their local derbies don’t pop up on a key date where there may be policing issues and increased charges, if it’s a Bank Holiday for example.
Obviously they don’t want their supporters to be unhappy with when the local derby is played, so a lot of it is pre-programmed in around this information. We also have to make sure that local derbies are on a date where they could be played on a Sunday if need be.
How do you deal with fixture congestion?
Well, the season never starts with the congestion that it ends with! The season will start with midweek matches fairly evenly spread, but when you start factoring in cup games, cup runs, fixtures being postponed etc. then congestion will be created towards the back end of the season.
Is the fixture list process improved year on year?
The fixture list is constantly evolving; that’s what the Fixtures Working Party and the FSF are there for as well, to have their input and give us issues that are being talked about at supporters forums.
We constantly evaluate the processes and policies involved, we are engaged with clubs and we do look to improve the technology involved every season to see what we can do better the following season.