K League Classic
|Number of teams||12|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||K League Challenge|
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
FC Seoul |
Seongnam FC |
|TV partners||KBS, JTBC, SPOTV|
|2017 K League Classic|
|K League Classic|
|Revised Romanization||K rigeu keullaesik|
|McCune–Reischauer||K rigŭ k'ŭllaesik|
The K League Classic is one of South Korea's professional association football leagues. At the top of the South Korean football league system, it is the country's highest and most prestigious level of football competition currently contested by 12 clubs.
The K League Classic was founded in 1983 as the Korean Super League, with five member clubs. The initial five clubs were Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, Daewoo Royals, Kookmin Bank FC. Hallelujah FC won the inaugural title, finishing one point ahead of Daewoo FC to lift the crown.
In 1998, Korea's football league was reformed and renamed the K League. (K-League was official orthography by 2012) Since its creation, the league has expanded from an initial 5 to 16 clubs. Of the 5 inaugural clubs, only Yukong Elephants, POSCO Dolphins, and Daewoo Royals remain in the K League; Kookmin Bank FC dropped out of the league at the end of 1984, and Hallelujah FC followed the season after.
Below the K League Classic, there is the K League Challenge, and below the K League Challenge, there is the National League, a closed semi-professional/amateur league with fifteen clubs, established in 2003. The fourth level of football in Korea is the Challengers League.
There was no official system of promotion and relegation. However, beginning in 2013, the champions of K League Challenge is eligible for promotion to the K League Classic, provided they had met certain criteria. In 2012 season, two teams from K League Classic was relegated to K League Challenge, and in 2013, two teams will be relegated to K League Challenge, and 11th placed team from K League Classic and the first placed team from K League Challenge will have a relegation play-off.
The K League season typically begins around March and runs to late November each year. The number of games, clubs and the systems used have varied through the years.
The K League champions, runner-up and third place gain entry to the AFC Champions League the following season, with the exception of Sangmu, due to their unique status as an army team, and therefore non-professional.
A number of the member clubs are owned by major Korean Chaebols, and the club names reflect that fact. Clubs have adopted local city names in an effort to integrate themselves more with the local communities; for example, Daewoo evolved over the years into Daewoo Royals, Pusan Daewoo Royals, Busan I'ons and latterly Busan IPark.
In 1996, K League franchise structure was changed hugely. Originally, When the franchise system was introduced in 1987, K League club's franchise were big cities of South Korea like Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon. But Theses cities are also franchise of Korean Baseball teams. Some K League clubs gave up big-city franchise and relocated to mid-sized/small-city franchise like Ulsan, Pohang by 1990. and In 1996, Due to Decentralization policy in K League, K League clubs in Seoul were moved to Seoul's satellite small city Anyang, Bucheon, Cheonan. Also Samsung was joined in 1996, But Samsung chose Suwon, a mid-sized/small-city franchise. As a result, In 1996 K-League franchise structure changed to mid-sized/small-city franchise totally.
Following the 2002 FIFA World Cup, leaders of the K League had hoped to transfer South Korea's passion for its National Team to the domestic league. However, the K League continued to struggle for crowds. Although a number of K League clubs have relocated in the past, the Lucky Goldstar (LG) corporation caused a huge controversy at the end of 2003 when they made the decision to uproot their Anyang LG Cheetahs from the Seoul satellite city of Anyang and move into the empty Seoul World Cup Stadium, becoming FC Seoul. Then following the 2005 season SK announced it was moving the Bucheon SK FC to the island of Jeju, where they became Jeju United.
In the 2009 season, Gangwon FC (Head Coach: Choi Soon-Ho, former Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dolphin head coach) joined the K League as its 15th member club. As such, the K League had one or more clubs in every Korean Province (Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Chungcheong, Gangwon, and Jeju). This is the first time in domestic Korean professional sports history that there has been at least two clubs in each Korean province.
On April 5, 2010, Gwangju City has announced a plan to establish a football club by end of 2010 & to join the league from the 2011 season. On October 12, 2010, the club was approved to join the league as 16th member club.
On October 5, 2011, the league announced a plan to introduce a relegation system from 2012 season. A number of teams of the league will decreased to 12 teams from 2013 season. 4 teams will be relegated to next level league based on the standing of 2012 season. And, the league introduced a split system like the Scottish Premier League from the 2012 season.
The league introduced the relegation system from the 2012 season. According to new relegation rule, 2 teams each will be relegated to lower level league based on the standing of 2012 and 2013 season, respectively (total: 4 teams). The league also changed the amount of entrance fee from 1 billion to 500 million Korean won.
|Club||Hometown||Stadium||First season in
the top flight
|Current spell in |
the top flight
|Daegu FC||Daegu||Daegu Stadium||2003||2017–|
|Gangwon FC||Gangwon Province||Gangneung Stadium||2017||2017–|
|Gwangju FC||Gwangju||Gwangju World Cup Stadium||2011||2015–|
|Incheon United||Incheon||Incheon Football Stadium||2004||2004–|
|Jeju United||Jeju Province||Jeju World Cup Stadium||1983||1983–|
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors||North Jeolla Province||Jeonju World Cup Stadium||1995||1995–|
|Jeonnam Dragons||South Jeolla Province||Gwangyang Football Stadium||1995||1995–|
|Pohang Steelers||Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province||Pohang Steel Yard||1983||1983–|
|Sangju Sangmu||Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province||Sangju Civic Stadium||1985||2016–|
|FC Seoul||Seoul||Seoul World Cup Stadium||1984||1984–|
|Suwon Samsung Bluewings||Suwon, Gyeonggi Province||Suwon World Cup Stadium||1996||1996–|
|Ulsan Hyundai||Ulsan||Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium||1984||1984–|
- For details on K League Champions, see List of K League champions.
Seongnam FC are the most successful team in terms of championship victories, having lifted the title on seven occasions.
The roll-call of champions is as follows (present-date names included where teams have changed names previously):
Titles by season
Titles by club
|Club||Champions||Winning seasons||Runners-up||Runners-up seasons|
|Seongnam FC||1993, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006||1992, 2007, 2009|
|FC Seoul||1985, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2016||1986, 1989, 1993, 2001, 2008|
|Pohang Steelers||1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013||1985, 1987, 1995, 2004|
|Suwon Samsung Bluewings||1998, 1999, 2004, 2008||1996, 2006, 2014, 2015|
|Busan IPark||1984, 1987, 1991, 1997||1983, 1990, 1999|
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors||2009, 2011, 2014, 2015||2012, 2016|
|Ulsan Hyundai||1996, 2005||1988, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2011, 2013|
|Jeju United||1989||1984, 1994, 2000, 2010|
- K League
- K League Challenge
- K League Championship
- Korean League Cup
- R League
- Korean FA Cup
- Korean Super Cup
- AFC Champions League
- Korea National League
- Challengers League
- K League All-Star Game
- Korean football league system
- List of football clubs in South Korea
- List of foreign K League Classic players
- "The World Cup 2006 in TIME Europe Magazine". Time. October 7, 2006.
- Official K League website (English)