|Number of teams||12|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||K League 2|
|Domestic cup(s)||FA Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League|
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (5th title) |
|Most championships||Seongnam FC (7 titles)|
|TV partners||KBS, MBC Sports+, SPOTV|
|2018 K League 1|
|K League 1|
|Revised Romanization||K rigeu one|
|McCune–Reischauer||K rigŭ wŏn|
The K League 1 (Hangul: K리그1) is one of South Korea's professional association football leagues. At the top of the South Korean football league system and contested by twelve clubs, it is the country's highest level of football competition.
The K League 1 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. The K League was then split into two divisions in 2013, the first division was renamed the K League Classic while the newly created second division was named the K League Challenge and both are now part of the K League structure. 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.
On 22 January 2018 the official name was changed to K League 1.
Below the K League 1, there is the K League 2, and below the K League 2, there is the National League, a closed semi-professional/amateur league established in 2003. The fourth level of football in South Korea is the K3 League.
There was no official system of promotion and relegation. However, beginning in 2013, the champions of the K League 2 are eligible for promotion to the K League 1, provided that they meet certain criteria.
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.
A number of the member clubs are owned by major South Korean Chaebols. 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, the K League franchise structure underwent a major change. Originally, when the franchise system was introduced in 1987, the K League club's franchise were big cities of South Korea like Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, and Daejeon. Some K League clubs gave up big-city franchise and relocated to mid-sized/small-city franchise like Ulsan and Pohang by 1990. In 1996, due to Decentralization policy in K League, K League clubs in Seoul were moved to Seoul's satellite cities Anyang, Bucheon, and Cheonan.
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[not specific enough to verify] 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 joined the K League as its 15th member club. As such, the K League had one or more clubs in every South Korean province (Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Jeolla, Chungcheong, Gangwon, and Jeju). This was the first time in domestic South Korean professional sports history that there has been at least two clubs in each South Korean province.
On 5 April 2010, Gwangju City announced a plan to establish a football club by the end of 2010 and to join the league for the 2011 season. On 12 October 2010, the club was approved to join the league as 16th member club.
On 5 October 2011, the league announced a plan to introduce a relegation system from the 2012 season. A number of teams of the league was decreased to twelve teams starting with the 2013 season. Four teams were relegated based on the final standing in the 2012 season. The league has also introduced a split system like the Scottish Premier League in the 2012 season.
Note: Seasons in top flight are updated as of the end of the 2017 season.
|Club||Hometown||Stadium||First season in
the top flight
|Current spell in
the top flight
|Daegu FC||Daegu||Daegu Stadium||2003||2017–||12||—|
|Gangwon FC||Gangwon||Chuncheon Songam Stadium||2009||2017–||6||—|
|Gyeongnam FC||Changwon||Changwon Football Center||2006||2018–||9||—|
|Incheon United||Incheon||Incheon Football Stadium||2004||2004–||14||—|
|Jeju United||Jeju||Jeju World Cup Stadium||1983||1983–||35||1989|
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors||North Jeolla||Jeonju World Cup Stadium||1995||1995–||23||2017|
|Jeonnam Dragons||South Jeolla||Gwangyang Football Stadium||1995||1995–||23||—|
|Pohang Steelers||Pohang||Pohang Steel Yard||1983||1983–||35||2013|
|Sangju Sangmu||Sangju||Sangju Civic Stadium||2011||2016–||5||—|
|FC Seoul||Seoul||Seoul World Cup Stadium||1984||1984–||34||2016|
|Suwon Samsung Bluewings||Suwon||Suwon World Cup Stadium||1996||1996–||22||2008|
|Ulsan Hyundai||Ulsan||Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium||1984||1984–||34||2005|
- For details on K League Champions, see List of South Korean football champions.
Seongnam FC are the most successful team in terms of championship victories, having lifted the title on seven occasions.
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|
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors||2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017||2012, 2016|
|Suwon Samsung Bluewings||1998, 1999, 2004, 2008||1996, 2006, 2014, 2015|
|Busan IPark||1984, 1987, 1991, 1997||1983, 1990, 1999|
|Ulsan Hyundai||1996, 2005||1988, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2011, 2013|
|Jeju United||1989||1984, 1994, 2000, 2010, 2017|
- Official K League website (in English)