As the 23rd season of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship hits the 100 day mark, we take a look at some of the frequently asked questions around the composition of the leagues’ 144 matches and the process behind them, to help you as our most important stakeholder, enjoy all the thrills of the action with better understanding.
Q: Can you explain the process of how the fixtures are created in the first place?
A: Once the URC rounds within the rugby calendar have been identified clubs are asked to submit any venue restrictions that would require them to play away from home in any particular round. Two-week blocks for travel by northern teams to South Africa are also identified.
Each territory also provides their requests for sequencing of derby games over the Christmas and New Year period. Due to broadcast agreements certain fixtures need to occur in separate rounds and when all factors have been considered they are formulated into rules and conditions using the Ligalytics scheduling software.
The Ligalytics platform allows multiple schedules to be produced in a short amount of time in order to find the best balance of home and away cadence while taking into consideration all of the conditions that are related to venues and broadcast agreements.
A number of fixture lists graded by strength were then presented to the Sports & Regulatory Committee for decision and approval and then shared with our broadcast partners to identify kick-off times.
Q: Are there other conditions or rules that influence the fixture list?
A: Rules related to fixtures include ensuring that tours to South Africa from teams visiting from the north play two games in succession – meaning they cannot be scheduled across breaks in calendar. For example, a team cannot be scheduled to play in South Africa in the final round before the November Internationals as it would require a second trip to complete their two-game tour a month later.
Likewise, the preference for South African teams is to play three-week tours in Europe so that the need for long-haul travel is reduced. In previous season three tours have occurred, to fit this into two tours the teams from South Africa will do a four-week tour at the start of the season and a two-week tour after the Six Nations window.
From season to season unique requests may also occur due to works taking place at a stadium, other events occurring at the venue or in the local vicinity or a commercial opportunity may arise to play a fixture at a different ground.
Q: How are kick-off times decided?
A: With seven different broadcasters operating across our five territories mixed across Free to Air (FTA) and Pay TV, it is a demanding process to schedule eight games per weekend that works with available time slots and the preferences of host broadcasters.
The league also has to try and balance the requirements of clubs who have varying kick-off times that suit their local markets. The host broadcaster on each game holds the right to set the kick-off time in a pre-defined time slot although other broadcasters can ask for consideration on a different time if that is suitable.
Where challenges occur is that while Pay TV broadcasters have multiple channels, FTA broadcasters usually only have one and that limits the number of games that can occur in certain time slots. All broadcasters also hold rights to other sports properties and that can also impact channel availability.
Broadcast agreements generally prevent more than two games being scheduled in any one time slot to allow for live coverage in multiple territories or because a broadcaster’s rights may extend to a specific time slot. FTA broadcasters in the same country will not compete with each other so for example on Fridays, two Irish teams cannot play at the same time and two Welsh teams cannot play at the same time.
This is a general rule also applied in South Africa with their four teams. All of this is considered during a group meeting with all broadcasters present and when all kick-off times are decided it is presented back to the SRC committee and clubs for final review.
Q: What other factors have an impact on scheduling of rounds or kick-off times?
A: Clubs may have restrictions around venue availability for a number of reasons at certain times of the year. Teams that share grounds with football or other sports teams may have to avoid certain weekends or may only have one day in a weekend with access to the stadium.
Turnaround times are also a big factor in ensuring teams have enough time to recover and prepare for their next fixture and six-day turnarounds are the shortest that generally occur. Five-day turnarounds on fixtures are avoided unless absolutely necessary and agreed by the clubs involved. This list is not exhaustive, but should provide some clarity on the various factors at play when it comes to scheduling.
Q: How do home and away fixtures work, my team is playing away to the same team two seasons in a row?
A: Teams will play all non-Shield opponents once a season. Over each two-year period they will face those teams once at home and once away. The fixture list for 2021/22 was reversed for 22/23 and entering 2023/24, the home and away sequencing starts afresh.
This means some teams who were away versus a non-Shield opponent last season, may be away again in 2023/24 but they will then be at home the following season in 2024/25.
Q: Who are Ligalytics?
A: Since 2022, the URC has used the Ligalytics scheduling platform which provides a custom made solution for the league which is built on sophisticated algorithms. Their advanced platform is used the German Football Federation, Bundesliga and the IPL with the URC standing as one of three clients in rugby alongside LNR and EPCR.
Please note: A full fixture list is available on the www.bullsrugby.co.za website and the Vodacom Bulls App, free for download from your chosen App Store.
The full fixture list can be downloaded directly onto your device calendar by using the following Ecal URC Fixtures 2023/24 link: https://ql.e-c.al/URCFixtures