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Monday 6th July 2020

Scottish Premiership

Fixtures Q&A

SPFL Company Secretary & Director of Operations Iain Blair gives an insight into how the fixture list is put together...

What are your thoughts on the 2020/21 Premiership fixture list?
I have certainly learned from my 22 years doing this job that there is no such thing as the perfect fixture list, indeed every fixture list is a compromise! Clubs and supporters will understandably focus on their own schedule but our aim is to produce the best and most balanced set of fixtures we can across the Premiership as a whole. I believe we have achieved that and, like everyone else, am looking forward to football returning on August 1, subject to approval from the Scottish Government. However, it is fair to say there are real and justified fears over the resilience of the schedule for 2020/21, given everything the game is dealing with currently. To highlight that, if you take into account European, international and our own domestic dates, there is not a single spare midweek this side of New Year.

Who produces the fixtures? 
This is our fifth season working in conjunction with GotSoccer, who are based in the United States and have experience of producing fixtures for several other major leagues. Their many football clients include Ligue 1 in France, Ekstraklasa in Poland, the Australian A-League and Major League Soccer. They also work with MLB (baseball) and NBA (basketball). GotSoccer use optimisation software to come up with a set of fixtures based on the information (‘fixture recipe’) provided by the SPFL. This is a very interactive and iterative process during which we produce many versions over a couple of weeks before a final decision is made.

What goes into the Premiership fixture recipe? 
There are the obvious things like avoiding Celtic and Rangers being at home on the same day. Clubs who had 16 home games before the split last season will have 17 at home in the coming season and vice versa. We have also flipped all the pairings – for example Hibernian hosted Livingston in the first phase of 2019/20 so for 2020/21 their first meeting will be at the Tony Macaroni Arena. The timing of the European dates means that Celtic (Champions League qualifiers) cannot play Rangers, Motherwell or Aberdeen (Europa League qualifiers) in fixture rounds eight or nine. The Christmas fixtures are balanced so all clubs who are at home on Boxing Day have an away match on December 30. There are back-to-back midweek rounds at the end of January - all clubs will be at home in one and away in the other. We liaise with Police Scotland over dates we might need to avoid due to other major events in local areas but that was less of an issue this year because many of them were cancelled due to Coronavirus.

Why are clubs not at home one week and away the next?
That is a common and fair question but it is not mathematically possible, even without all the other fixture constraints. Limiting instances of H-H or A-A sequences is something we work hard on with GotSoccer when compiling the fixtures and we have been able to reduce those considerably for 2020/21 as compared to last season. 

Why is there no winter break for 2020/21?
With a congested fixture calendar it simply was not possible to incorporate a break for 2020/21, as we have done in January in recent years. On top of the 38 Premiership fixture rounds, the semi-finals and final of the 2019/20 Scottish Cup have still to be played. There is also the usual potential for matches to be postponed due to the elements – you will recall the particularly wet weather we had in February this year – and any second peak of the Coronavirus virus could obviously have a big impact.

Why are there Friday night fixtures in October and November?
In an ideal world we would have been able to agree to the request from the Scottish FA to postpone our top-flight games on the weekends before the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final with Israel in October and the potential final in Norway or Serbia the following month. The stress on the fixture calendar means we must schedule matches but we have brought them forward to the Friday evening to allow Steve Clarke and his squad as much preparation as possible for the Thursday internationals. There is, however, the prospect that we may require to move some matches to Sunday depending on the progress of clubs in the Europa League.

When are the derby matches in 2020/21?
The traditional derbies have been scheduled for Saturday January 2, when the fixtures include Aberdeen v Dundee United, Hamilton Accies v Motherwell and Rangers v Celtic. The first meeting of the Glasgow rivals is scheduled for Celtic Park on the weekend of October 17.

Are there home starts again for last season’s champions? 
That is something we build into the fixture recipe. Celtic will begin the defence of their Premiership trophy at home and Dundee United will mark their return to the top flight with a match at Tannadice after winning the Championship title in 2019/20.

Why does the Premiership season end after the Scottish Cup final?
Hampden is a host venue for the delayed European Championship – the National Stadium will stage Euro 2020 Group D fixtures on June 14, 18 and 22 then a last-16 tie on June 29. As a consequence, the Scottish Cup final is set to take place on Saturday May 8. After that, the Premiership fixtures for round 37 on May 11/12 and round 38 on May 15/16 will be played. This is not a new situation; one previous example was when the Scottish Cup final of 2002 was held on May 4 that year, ahead of Hampden hosting the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen.

What are the dates for the post-split Premiership games?
Fixture rounds 34-38 will be played on the weekends of April 17/18, April 24/25 and May 1/2, the midweek of May 11/12 and the weekend of May 15/16.

How many live TV games will be shown this season? 
We are delighted to have entered a new five-year agreement with Sky Sports, which allows our broadcast partner to show up to 48 Scottish Premiership matches exclusively live each season. We have announced the selections for August alongside the fixture list, with 13 matches to be screened during the first month of the season.

When will fixtures for the other divisions be published?
It has already been confirmed that the Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs will begin a reduced 27-match programme on October 17. We anticipate that fixtures for those three divisions will be published in late July.

What is happening with the Betfred Cup for 2020/21?
In normal circumstances we would be looking forward to matchday one of the Betfred Cup this weekend but obviously Coronavirus changed all that. Our plan is to retain the group stage format, with matches starting in early October, ahead of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 kicking off. We expect to confirm all dates for the 2020/21 Betfred Cup shortly.

Are you already planning for 2021/22?
We normally start planning the following Season’s fixtures quite early in the current Season; so I will certainly be involved in the beginning of that. But retirement beckons early in 2021 so much of the later hard work will be led by Calum Beattie. Calum has worked closely with me over recent years and I look forward to admiring his work from afar!