Read our Korea League beginner’s guide to learn more about the Korean top-flight soccer league.

Recent reports that ESPN might offer live Korean soccer to American viewers when the 2020 K League season kicks off on May 8th were quashed after the article by SportsPro Media quickly removed the mention of ESPN’s name. Regardless, a potential deal with any US broadcaster would be welcome news to fútbol fiends who’ve been scouring the Internet for action from Belarus, Nicaragua, Taiwan, and Tajikistan.

Christopher Harris, on the World Soccer Talk Podcast, downplayed reports that ESPN had signed a deal. While hopes were raised when ESPN signed a deal to carry South Korean baseball games, the good news is that soccer will soon resume in the “land of the morning calm” with the K League agreeing to stream the opening game for free on YouTube and Twitter with English-language commentary featuring Simon Hill.

On Thursday, on the eve of the new season, we learned that soccer YouTube channel Copa 90 acquired the rights to one game per week.

1. How is the K League set up?

– The K League is a closed-loop system with promotion and relegation between the 12-team K League 1 and the 10-team K League 2. Normally, the last place K League 1 club swaps places with the K League 2 champion. Then, the winner between the 3rd and 4th place K League 2 clubs plays the 2nd place club for the right to enter a playoff against the 11th-ranked K League 1 club for a top-flight spot. For a more in-depth look at how promotion and relegation works across the soccer world, check out our article on the subject.

– MLS haters clutching fall-spring calendars look away now, because the K League runs from spring to the fall.

– Some South Korean stars, like Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and Bordeaux’s Hwang Ui-jo, play overseas. But the K League still boasts many domestic players, like Ju Se-Jong and Lee Yong, who featured in South Korea’s 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup squads.

– Clubs are limited to five foreign players, of which only three can be from outside Asia. Most foreigners are Brazilian, but Canadian defender Doniel Henry, formerly of Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, plays for the Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Henry’s Bluewings teammate is Australian Adam Taggart, whose 20 goals led the K League last year. Last season, former USMNT and NYCFC midfielder Mix Diskerud played for Ulson Hyundai on loan from Manchester City.

– FC Seoul, with six league championships, usually attracts the league’s biggest home crowds. But for all its domestic glory, the club is still searching for its first AFC Champions League title. FC Seoul’s gorgeous home stadium is where South Korea suffered its heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2002 World Cup semi-final. Seongnam FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, with seven league championships each, are South Korea’s most successful domestic clubs. They also each have two AFC Champions League wins. The Pohang Steelers lead the way on the continent with three AFC Champions League wins.

2. What will the 2020 K League 1 season look like?

– There will be 27 rounds of action. The 12 K League 1 clubs will play each other home and away twice. That’s 22 matches. Then the top six clubs will play a further five matches against each other in a mini-league to determine the league champion and AFC Champions League qualification slots. The bottom six clubs will also enter a mini-league to figure out their final table positions.

– All matches will be played behind closed doors

– Two teams will be relegated this season, one of which has already been announced as Sangju Sangmu FC. This club represents South Korea’s military and its agreement with K League 1 has expired. So if it finishes last this year, then the 11th place K League 1 team will play the winner of the K League 2’s promotion tournament between the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-ranked clubs for a top flight spot. If Sangju Sangmu finishes anywhere else in the table, then the club will automatically go down along with the 12th place club and there will be no relegation playoff.

– According to a league statement, “[i]f a player or a member of a team’s coaching staff gets infected with COVID-19 during the season, the affected team will not have a game for at least two weeks and the game will be postponed”

– If numerous players or coaches contract the virus then the K League will suspend the season. If this suspension happens after week 22, then the standings will be considered final.

3. What is the time difference?

– Watching K League games in America at off-hours will require gallons of Dalgona coffee, a Korean specialty. It’s a tasty whipped blend of instant coffee, sugar, and milk all topped with spun candy. Fútbol fanatics watching in the dead of night deserve a little bit of froth. Here’s a good recipe.

– South Korea is 16 hours ahead of America’s west coast and 13 hours ahead of the east coast. So, for example, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings kick off the season on a Friday night in Korea at 7 PM local time – – which will be 6 AM Eastern and 3AM Pacific.

– Saturday afternoon matches will generally be at 2 PM in Korea (1 AM Eastern and 10 PM Pacific on Friday night), 4:30 PM in Korea (3:30 AM Eastern and 12:30 AM Pacific) and 7PM in Korea (6 AM Eastern and 3 AM Pacific)

– Any network that picks up K League rights for America, would be wise to produce a Match of the Day-esque show rounding up the best action. That way, Americans could enjoy the K League in a reasonable time slot. A highlights show would also give a better sense of what the league has to offer versus watching a single random match. Not so great for the gamblers, but they’re dedicated enough to watch live in the middle of the night anyway.

4. Why is South Korea able to play when other countries can’t?

  Planning, and a fair bit of luck, are why South Korea has fought off the virus so well. South Korea is a massive nation of more than 50 million people, and its density rate of around 1,300 people per square mile is among the highest in the world. Yet as of late April, South Korea had just 10,761 confirmed cases and only 246 deaths. For context, Florida, with 21.5 million people, has suffered 1,218 deaths. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, South Korea’s per capita death rate is .47 while America’s is 16.43.

– South Korea tested its people in far greater numbers far earlier than other major countries. As The New York Times reported, by late March South Korea’s per-capita testing rate was “more than 40 times that of the United States.” America has now surpassed South Korea in per-capita testing but it is still dealing with rising infection rates in many parts of the United States while South Korea now only has a handful of new cases a day.

– South Korea also aggressively enacted contact tracing, which America’s CDC says, “is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19.” As The New York Times described the system, “South Koreans’ cellphones vibrate with emergency alerts whenever new cases are discovered in their districts. Websites and smartphone apps detail hour-by-hour, sometimes minute-by-minute, timelines of infected people’s travel.” But South Koreans, as writer James Taub points out in Foreign Policy, “accept intrusions on their privacy that Western liberals might not.”

– Aside from stimulus payments and supporting the wages of those furloughed, South Korea also took care of its citizens by mailing care packages that included essentials like sanitizers and masks. But in America, many hard-hit states like Ohio are not requiring masks. This is despite the CDC stating that even simple cloth masks can prevent asymptomatic carriers from infecting others. The New York City’s Department of Heath agrees, “[p]eople who do not show symptoms may still be able to spread COVID-19. A face covering can help prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to other people, so you should wear one whenever you leave the home.” Professor George Gao, Director General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, put it bluntly in Science magazine, “The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks.”

Browse through these beginners guides to the many of the popular soccer leagues:

Soccer Beginner’s guides

• Beginner’s guide to soccer rules

• Beginner’s guide to Argentine Primera División

• Beginner’s guide to Bundesliga

• Beginner’s guide to Championship

• Beginner’s guide to Champions League

• Beginner’s guide to English Premier League

• Beginner’s guide to Korea’s K League

• Beginner’s guide to La Liga

• Beginner’s guide to Serie A

• Beginner’s guide to Euro 2020

• Beginner’s guide to World Cup

• Beginner’s guide to FA Cup

If you have any questions about the Korea League beginner’s guide, let us know in the comments section below.