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Fixture Release Day: Compiling the fixtures – ‘the impossible job’

Q&A with EFL Competitions Manager, Paul Snellgrove, ahead of Fixture Release Day

21 June 2018

On Thursday 21 June 2018, at 9am, the 2018/19 Sky Bet EFL fixtures will be released. It's been little more than three weeks since the previous campaign came to a close and the new divisional line-ups were confirmed, and we've caught up with the EFL's Competitions Manager, Paul Snellgrove, to tell us how the fixture compilation process works.

How are the EFL fixtures processed?

We have an outside IT contractor that both ourselves and the Premier League work with. It’s a longstanding relationship and they’re very experienced in fixture production, understanding how both the league and clubs work.

The process starts in essence in November where we have a meeting with the Fixtures Working Party to agree a draft schedule for the forthcoming season. This is 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 few 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 the final day.

We look at these and whether or not any of them will cause problems for the clubs or the police. We also look at the local derbies and when these occur, and midweek travel which is by far the most lengthy part of the process. 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 is checked manually by the League’s Football Services 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, along with any other information that we accumulate from train companies and police forces regarding events that go on up and down the country, that could potentially clash with fixtures in that area.

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 third 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 contractor has got the requisite time period to produce their most quality list. It also ensures we have time to review the fixtures adequately, which ideally you would like three days to do.

Then 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 home and away midweek fixtures, and we compare the mileage over those fixtures against the average mileage for the whole division.

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?

It’s done at random to an extent, but local derbies are by far and away the most touched-upon 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. When you start factoring in cup games, cup runs, fixtures being postponed etc. then fixture congestion is created towards the back end of the season.

Is the fixture list process improved year on year?

The fixture list is constantly evolving, and that’s what the Fixtures Working Party and the FSF are there for — 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 for the following campaign.

When will Sky Sports be announcing their live broadcast selections?

The first batch of live TV selections for the opening weekend will be announced on the same day as the fixtures, so Thursday 21st June.

Last season, we made 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’ notice ahead of any matches selected for live TV coverage. This is to be as fair as possible to supporters who are looking to make travel arrangements to attend these matches.

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