A few years ago, the fixture list was still generated manually using what was known in Germany as the ‘English key’. Each club was assigned a number from 1 to 18 and slotted into a predefined schedule, which then determined the fixtures automatically. It was not possible to make individual adjustments outside the schedule. In order to crack open the rigid ‘English key’ system, the DFL ordered the development of software to support the generation of customized fixture lists.
The requirements of local authorities, safety bodies and the Central Information Centre for Sports Events (ZIS) and the wishes of clubs and stadium operators are taken into account when generating the fixture lists for the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. In addition to obvious restrictions such as avoiding neighbouring clubs playing home matches at the same time, factors such as public holidays, other major events happening in the respective match locations and fixtures in international competitions must be taken into account. Planning and preparations for the coming season start in the spring, but the planning really begins to take shape only once the identity of the promoted and relegated clubs is known.
Use of software
Factoring in all the relevant requirements would be almost impossible without technical support. The software uses the method of integer linear programming – a branch of applied mathematics that is used for planning in logistics and telecommunications areas, too. This method makes it possible to solve complex problems that depend on various factors. Once all the relevant data is retrieved, it is translated into variables and entered into the software.
Even then, preparing the fixture list is far from a simple task. The people responsible always have to weigh up or reconcile differing circumstances and interests in order to achieve the best possible outcome. They review and discard hundreds of options. In other words, human input remains indispensable even in this age of technology and digitalisation.
Exact fixtures are set only during the season
But the work is not done when the fixture list is published. The fixture list sets out only the general schedule for the individual matchdays, i.e. which clubs will meet on which matchday. The exact fixtures and kick-off times are then set individually as the season progresses. Here, too, every effort is made to take account of the various demands and requirements.
International competitions are the main reason why the exact fixtures are set only once the season is under way. To allow vital rest periods for international teams, as a general rule, a Bundesliga matchday is scheduled only once the dates on which each team is playing internationally are certain. As a matter of principle, clubs must be given a break of at least two days before and after matches in international competitions. The DFL is also in constant contact with safety bodies to create fixtures that are guaranteed to run smoothly for all participants. The interests of clubs, stadium operators and fans are also important.
International competitions are the main reason why the precise fixture list is not published until the season gets under way. In order to give the international teams an adequate rest period, a Bundesliga match day cannot be finalised until it is clear which teams are playing when, especially in Europe.