Frankfurt - The Bundesliga fixture list may look straightforward on paper, but in fact it is the end product of an extremely complex and labour-intensive process.
A few years ago the schedule was produced manually using a so-called 'English key', whereby each club was allocated a number between one and 18 and slotted into a pre-existing template. The fixture list was generated automatically from there, and it was subsequently not possible to make any changes to it.
Desiring greater flexibility, the DFL had its own software developed to provide more scope for producing individual match schedules. The programme ensures an optimal fixture list for Germany's top two divisions, taking into account the various and sometimes divergent requirements of local communties, police, international associations, clubs and stadium owners.
Alongside obvious constraints, such as staggering the kick-off times of home games for near-neighbouring clubs, the planning has to be coordinated with international tournament dates and friendly fixtures, as well as factoring in other diverse limitations such as national holidays and arenas being used for other major events.
Europa League complications
The UEFA Europa League presents its own particular set of complications as UEFA stipulations require matches to take place on Thursdays. In order to guarantee two full days of rest afterwards, any German teams involved thus have to play their next Bundesliga game the following Sunday. However, with up to four teams potentially involved in the Europa League and only two Sunday encounters allowed per matchday in the Bundesliga, it poses a possible obstacle.
While computer-aided technology makes the whole process possible in the first place, the human factor is still essential to its completion and the software is constantly fine-tuned in order to achieve the optimal outcome. Hundreds of draft fixture lists are checked and discarded before the final version is arrived at. As a starting point, a template of home and away games is designed for each club before individual fixtures are assigned. Planning for the forthcoming season has been underway since early in the year, but the workload intensifies once it has been determined which clubs have been promoted and relegated.
The unveiling of the schedule is by no means the end of the matter either. The framework may now be in place, but the individual matchday kick-off times still have to be finalised. Once again, the wishes of all concerned parties are taken into account as far as possible, although the sole regulation is that each club may only be allocated three home and away games each in the late Saturday kick-off slot (18:30 CET). The journey time involved for travelling supporters is also factored in.
The vagaries of international competition present the main stumbling block to putting out an all-encompassing fixture list before the season gets underway. Only once it is clear which teams are playing when in Europe does it make sense to finalise the Bundesliga calendar.