IQ icon

The death of the round robin?

18 April 2018
The most memorable moments in football are when championships are decided in the last round of fixtures. Every Manchester City fan will always remember Aguëro’s heroic late winner against QPR in 2011/2012, just like everyone in Eindhoven still talks about the time PSV snatched the Eredivisie title on goal difference in the last match of 2006/2007. Unfortunately, tight title races are a dying bread.

The gap between elite clubs and their national rivals is growing and when mid- and lower league sides are no longer able to beat their country’s title contenders on a regular basis, a round robin in which all teams play each other twice (at home and away) will result in early title decisions more often, ultimately making these competitions less interesting for the audience. This season’s champions have already been crowned in the Premier League (Manchester City), Bundesliga (Bayern München), Ligue 1 (PSG) and Eredivisie (PSV), whilst FC Barcelona (La Liga) and Juventus (Serie A) both have comfortable leads.

In order to maximise sporting tension in the domestic league, some countries have decided to change the format of their competition. One of the front runners is Belgium, where the competition format was changed with the help of our partner Hypercube from 2009/2010 onwards. The Jupiler Pro League consists of two stages. In the first stage, all 16 teams play each other twice. After these 30 matches, the top-6 clubs qualify for the play-offs, in which the title race is decided. All six clubs only take half of their points from the first stage into the second, which postpones all decisions to the very end of the season.

The result is that the title race in Belgium this season is much more intense than in other countries. Current leaders Club Brugge dominated the first stage, but saw their lead reduced to only three points after losing 1-0 to chasing rivals Anderlecht. With seven matches to go, the race for the title is on fire, drawing people to the stadiums and in front of their televisions and thus stimulating revenues, while teams such as PSV, Manchester City, PSG and Bayern München still have several matches to play with nothing at stake. The question arises: how long can these leagues maintain the round robin format without losing the spectators?