|Organising body||Korea Football Association|
K League Federation
Korea Football Association
K League Federation
|Divisions||K League 1|
K League 2
|Number of teams||22|
|Level on pyramid||1–2|
|Domestic cup(s)||Korean FA Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
|Current champions||Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors|
|Most championships||Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors|
|TV partners||JTBC Golf&Sports|
Sky Sports (South Korea)
Life Sports TV
Until the 1970s, South Korean football opreated two major football leagues, the National Semi-professional Football League and the National University Football League, but these were not professional leagues in which footballers can focus on only football. In 1979, however, the Korea Football Association (KFA)'s president Choi Soon-young planned to found a pro football league, and made the first pro club Hallelujah FC the next year. After the South Korean pro baseball league KBO League was founded in 1982, the KFA was aware of crisis about the popularity of football. In 1983, it urgently made the Korean Super League with two pro clubs (Hallelujah FC, Yukong Elephants) and three semi-pro clubs (Pohang Steelworks, Daewoo Royals, Kookmin Bank) to professionalize South Korean football. Then the Super League accomplished its purpose after existing clubs were also converted into pro clubs (Pohang, Daewoo), or new pro clubs joined the league. In the early years, it also showed a promotion system by giving qualifications to the Semi-professional League winners. (Hanil Bank in 1984, Sangmu FC in 1985)
However, the number of spectators was consistently decreased despite KFA's effort, so the pro league, renamed as the Korean Professional Football League, operated home and away system to interest fans since 1987. On 30 July 1994, the Professional League Committee under KFA was independent of the association, and renamed as the "Korean Professional Football Federation". In 1996, South Korean government and the Football Federation introduced a decentralization policy to proliferate the popularity of football nationally in preparation for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which they wanted to host. Several clubs located in the capital Seoul moved to other cities according to the new policy, but this was abolished after only three years and is regarded as a failed policy because it gave up the most populous city in South Korea. In 1998, the league was renamed again as current K League.
It had the current format by abolishing the K League Championship and the Korean League Cup after the 2011 season, and being split into two divisions in 2013. The first division's name was K League Classic, the second division's name was K League Challenge and the comprehensive brand name was K League. The fact that both the first and second divisions had very similar names caused some degree of confusion and controversy. Beginning with the 2018 season, the first division was renamed to K League 1 and the second division to K League 2.
On February 23, 2021, an OTT platform named "K League TV" officially began its service: born from a partnership between K League and their official relay operator abroad, Sportradar, the platform would guarantee access to users from almost the whole world (except for Korea), broadcast K League 1 and K League 2 matches in real time and host game highlights and interviews. K League TV also represented the first official portal to publish content about both the championships in English.
Below the K League 1, there is the K League 2, and both form the K League as professional championships. Under them, there are two semi-professional leagues (K3 League, K4 League) and several amateur leagues, but their clubs cannot be promoted to K League.
K League 1
- Has two home stadiums
K League 2
As of 2020, there have been a total of 32 member clubs in the history of the K League – those clubs are listed below with their current names (where applicable):
- K League's principle of official statistics is that final club succeeds to predecessor club's history and records.
- Clubs in italics no longer exist.
|1||POSCO Dolphins[a] (1983–1984)
POSCO Atoms (1985–1994)
Pohang Atoms (1995–1996)
Pohang Steelers (1997–present)
|2||Hallelujah FC[b] (1983–1985)||Shindongah Group|
|3||Yukong Elephants (1983–1995)
Bucheon Yukong (1996–1997)
Bucheon SK (1997–2005)
Jeju United (2006–present)
|4||Daewoo Royals[c] (1983–1995)
Busan Daewoo Royals (1996–1999)
Busan I'Cons (2000–2004)
Busan IPark (2005–present)
HDC Group (2000–present)
|5||Kookmin Bank FC[d] (1983–1984)||Kookmin Bank|
|6||Hyundai Horang-i (1984–1995)
Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i (1996–2007)
Ulsan Hyundai (2008–present)
|Hyundai Motor Company (1984–1997)|
Hyundai Heavy Industries (1998–present)
|7||Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso (1984–1990)
LG Cheetahs (1991–1995)
Anyang LG Cheetahs (1996–2003)
FC Seoul (2004–present)
|LG Group (1984–2004)|
GS Group (2004–present)
|8||Hanil Bank FC (1984–1986)||Hanil Bank|
|9[e]||Sangmu FC (1985)||Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps|
|10||Ilhwa Chunma (1989–1995)
Cheonan Ilhwa Chunma (1996–1999)
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (2000–2013)
Seongnam FC (2014–present)
|Ilwha Company (1989–2013)|
Seongnam Government (2014–present)
|11||Chonbuk Buffalo (1994)||Bobae Soju|
|12||Jeonbuk Dinos (1995–1996)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Dinos (1997–1999)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (2000–present)
|Hyundai Motor Company (1995–present)|
Hyunyang Company (1995–1999)
|13||Jeonnam Dragons (1995–present)||POSCO|
|14||Suwon Samsung Bluewings (1996–present)||Samsung Electronics (1996–2014)|
Cheil Worldwide (2014–present)
|15||Daejon Citizen (1997–2019)
Daejeon Hana Citizen (2020–present)
|Dong Ah Group (1997–1998)|
Chungchong Bank (1997–1998)
Dongyang Department Store (1997–1999)
KyeRyong Construction Company (1997–2002)
Daejeon Government (2003–2019)
Hana Financial Group (2020–present)
|16[e]||Gwangju Sangmu (2003–2010)||Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps|
|17||Daegu FC (2003–present)||Daegu Government|
|18||Incheon United (2004–present)||Incheon Government|
|19||Gyeongnam FC (2006–present)||Gyeongnam Provincial Government|
|20||Gangwon FC (2009–present)||Gangwon Provincial Government|
|21[e]||Sangju Sangmu (2011–2020)||Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps|
|22||Gwangju FC (2011–present)||Gwangju Government|
|23[f]||Police FC (2013)
Ansan Police (2014–2015)
Ansan Mugunghwa (2016)
|KNP Sports Club|
Ansan Government (2014–2016)
|24||Goyang Hi FC[g] (2013–2015)
Goyang Zaicro (2016)
|25||Chungju Hummel[h] (2013–2016)||Hummel Korea|
|26||Suwon FC[i] (2013–present)||Suwon Government|
|27||Bucheon FC 1995 (2013–present)||Bucheon Government|
|28||FC Anyang (2013–present)||Anyang Government|
|29||Seoul E-Land (2015–present)||E-Land Group|
|30[f]||Asan Mugunghwa (2017–2019)||KNP Sports Club|
|31||Ansan Greeners (2017–present)||Ansan Government|
|32||Chungnam Asan (2020–present)||Asan Government|
Chungnam Provincial Government
|33[e]||Gimcheon Sangmu (2021–present)||Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps|
- Founded as a semi-professional club "POSCO FC" on 1 April 1973.
- Founded as a semi-professional club on 20 December 1980
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Saehan Motors FC" on 22 November 1979
- Founded as a semi-professional club on 29 September 1969
- Sangmu, Gwangju Sangmu, Sangju Sangmu, and Gimcheon Sangmu are separate legal entities according to the K League Federation
- Ansan Mugunghwa, and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities according to the K League Federation
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Hallelujah FC" on 3 April 1999
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Hummel FC" on 9 December 1999
- Founded as a semi-professional club "Suwon City FC" on 15 March 2003
The K League promotion-relegation playoffs were introduced in 2013 and are contested between the 11th-placed team of the K League 1 and the runners-up of the K League 2. The first leg is always played at the second division team's home ground, while the second leg is played at the first division team's home ground.
|Season||K League 1||Aggregate||K League 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
|2013||Gangwon FC||2–4||Sangju Sangmu||1–4||1–0|
|2014||Gyeongnam FC||2–4||Gwangju FC||1–3||1–1|
|2015||Busan IPark||0–3||Suwon FC||0–1||0–2|
|2016||Seongnam FC||1–1 (a)||Gangwon FC||0–0||1–1|
|2017||Sangju Sangmu||1–1 (5–4 p)||Busan IPark||1–0||0–1 (a.e.t.)|
|2018||FC Seoul||4–2||Busan IPark||3–1||1–1|
|2019||Gyeongnam FC||0–2||Busan IPark||0–0||0–2|
|2020||No promotion-relegation playoffs were played.[a]|
|2021||TBD||TBD||TBD||25 Nov||28 Nov|
- Two K League 1 teams were relegated, so runners-up of the K League 2 were directly promoted in this year.
Records and statistics
- As of 25 November 2020
Restriction of foreign players
|Details||[detail 1]||[detail 2]||[detail 3]||[detail 4]||[detail 5]|
- If three or more native players in one club were chosen for national team, three foreign players could play.
- The number of foreign goalkeepers' appearances was limited in 1997 and 1998, and their employment is being banned since 1999.
1997 season: Two-thirds of all matches
1998 season: One-third of all matches
1999–present: Foreign goalkeepers are restricted in league
- Temporary operation due to frequent call-ups of native players for World Cup team.
- +1 Asian player
- +1 Asian player, +1 Southeast Asian player
At the inception of the K League in 1983, only two Brazilian players made rosters. At the time, rules allowed each club to have three foreign players and that the three could also play simultaneously in a game. From the 1996 season, each team had five foreign players among whom three could play in a game at the same time. Since 1999, foreign goalkeepers are banned from the league because South Korean clubs excessively employed foreign goalkeepers after watching Valeri Sarychev's performances at that time. In 2001 and 2002, the limit on foreign players was expanded seven but only three could play in a game at the same time. The limit was lower to five in 2003, four in 2005, and three in 2007. Since 2009, the number of foreign players went back up to four per team, including a slot for a player from AFC countries. Since 2020, Southeast Asian players can be registered under the ASEAN Quota.
Relocation of clubs
In early years, the hometowns of K League clubs were determined, but they were pointless in substance because the clubs played all K League matches by going around all stadiums together. The current home and away system is being operated since 1987. The clubs were relocated from provinces to cities in 1990, but clubs are currently based in their area regardless of province and city since 1994. In 1996, the decentralization policy was operated. In result 3 clubs based in Seoul were relocated. Since 1996, It was obligatory for all clubs to include hometown name in their club name.
|Club||National tour system (1983–1986)||Home and away system (1987–present)|
|Pohang Steelers||Daegu–Gyeongbuk (1983)||Daegu–Gyeongbuk → Pohang (1988[a])|
|Jeju United||Seoul–Incheon–Gyeonggi (1983) → Seoul (1984)||Seoul → Incheon–Gyeonggi (1987) → Seoul (1991) → Bucheon (2001[b]) → Jeju (2006)|
|Busan IPark||Busan–Gyeongnam (1983)||Busan–Gyeongnam → Busan (1989[c])|
|Ulsan Hyundai||Incheon–Gyeonggi (1984) → Incheon–Gyeonggi–Gangwon (1986)||Gangwon (1987) → Ulsan (1990)|
|FC Seoul||Chungnam–Chungbuk (1984)||Chungnam–Chungbuk → Seoul (1990) → Anyang (1996) → Seoul (2004)|
|Seongnam FC||N/A||Seoul (1989) → Cheonan (1996) → Seongnam (2000)|
|Gimcheon Sangmu[d]||N/A||Gwangju (2003) → Sangju (2011) → Gimcheon (2021)|
|Asan Mugunghwa[e]||N/A||Unlocated[f] (2013) → Ansan (2014) → Asan (2017)|
- K League officially introduced the relocation policy to cities in 1990, but POSCO Atoms already followed it in 1988.
- Bucheon Yukong decided Bucheon as its new city in 1996, but it played its home matches at Mokdong Stadium located in Mok-dong, Seoul until 2000, because Bucheon Stadium was under construction during that time.
- K League officially introduced the relocation policy to cities in 1990, but Daewoo Royals already followed it in 1989.
- Gwangju Sangmu, Sangju Sangmu, and Gimcheon Sangmu are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and founded as a new club.
- Police FC, Ansan Police, and Asan Mugunghwa are separate legal entities by K League. Officially, not relocated and re-founded as a new civil club, named Chungnam Asan, in 2019.
- Played all matches at away stadiums
- K League MVP Award
- K League Top Scorer Award
- K League Top Assists Award
- K League Young Player of the Year
- K League Manager of the Year
- K League Best XI
- K League FANtastic Player
|1994–1995||Hite||94 Hite Cup Korean League|
95 Hite Cup Korean League
|1996–1997||Rapido||96 Rapido Cup Professional Football League|
97 Rapido Cup Professional Football League
|1998||Hyundai Group||98 Hyundai Cup K-League|
|1999||Hyundai Securities||99 Buy Korea Cup K-League|
|2000||Samsung Electronics||2000 Samsung DigiTall K-League|
|2001||POSCO||2001 POSCO K-League|
|2002||Samsung Electronics||2002 Samsung PAVV K-League|
|2003–2008||Samsung Hauzen K-League 2003–2008|
|2010||Hyundai Motor Company||Sonata K League 2010|
|2011–2016||Hyundai Oilbank||Hyundai Oilbank K League 2011–2012|
Hyundai Oilbank K League Classic 2013–2016
Hyundai Oilbank K League Challenge 2013–2016
|2017–present||KEB Hana Bank||KEB Hana Bank K League Classic 2017|
KEB Hana Bank K League Challenge 2017
KEB Hana Bank K League 1 2018
KEB Hana Bank K League 2 2018
Hana 1Q K League 1 2019
Hana 1Q K League 2 2019
- Football in South Korea
- K League 1
- K League 2
- K League Championship
- Korean League Cup
- K League All-Star Game
- Korean FA Cup
- Korean Super Cup
- South Korean football league system
- R League
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- "K League OTT Platform Launched for Overseas Fans - K LEAGUE / K리그". www.kleague.com. 23 February 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to K League.|
- Official K League website (in English)