Season (sports)

Season (sports)

In an organized sports league, a season is the portion of one year in which regulated games of the sport are in session. For example, in Major League Baseball, one season lasts approximately from April 1 through October 1; in Association football, it is generally from August until May (although in some countries, especially those in Scandinavia, the season starts in the spring and finishes in the autumn due to the weather conditions encountered during the winter). A year can often be broken up into several distinct sections (sometimes themselves called seasons). These are:



Most team sports have a period of training to recover fitness levels, followed by exhibition games or friendly matches prior to the start of their regular seasons ("pre-season training" and "pre-season" games). The game results do not count in the season standings of the teams, so they serve conveniently to test player candidates and to practice teamwork under game conditions. They may be used to promote the team effectively both at home and elsewhere. For some teams a pre-season overseas tour may be profitable, even lucrative. For some leagues, overseas games may promote their sport or their league to new audiences.

In some sports there may be a pre-season curtain-raiser or "supercup" competition—for example, in England, the previous season's winners of the FA Cup and Premier League play one another for the Community Shield before the start of the regular season. Part of the profits from this game are divided up amongst all teams participating in both competitions the year before, to donate to charities and good causes in their local area while the rest is given to national charities and good causes by The FA itself.

Regular season

In almost every sport the term "regular season" would refer to the sport's league competition. In most countries the league is played in a double round-robin format, where every team plays every other team twice, once at their home venue, and once away at the oppositions venue as visitors. The results over all games are accumulated and when every team has completed its full schedule of games, a winner is declared.

In addition to the regular season league competition, many sports also operate an elimination cup tournament. A cup tournament can either take the form of a league cup, where members of a league competition are seeded using their standings from the previous year, or an association cup which is open to teams playing the sport at all levels providing they are affiliated to the National body for that sport. These competitions usually run alongside the regular league competitions, though often there is a small overlap where the cup either begins slightly before or ends slightly after the regular season. It is not uncommon for the cup final to be held the week after the last games of the league.

In such a set-up it is usual for the top division teams to be given a bye into the last few rounds while the smaller teams are randomly drawn against each other in the early rounds. This set-up allows for the possibility of relative minnows and small-town teams to become giant-killers and eliminate one of the big Nationally recognised clubs from the competition.

In North American, and some Australian sports, the cup tournament is held immediately after rather than during the regular season and using the seedings from it. These cup competitions are known as play-offs and in all four major US sports, winning the cup final (Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup) is vastly more important than winning the league.

This may be in part due to the unusual way in which North American sports leagues are scheduled. Rather than every team playing all others twice, teams may play more games against local rivals than teams in other parts of the country. For example, the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers will play the Los Angeles Clippers four times in a regular season, while both will only play the Boston Celtics, who are in the opposite Eastern Conference, twice. In the scheduling system used in the NFL, it is possible for two teams to only meet every three years.


Many sports leagues have playoffs that occur after the regular season is complete. A subset of the teams enter into a playoff tournament, generally a pre-determined number with better overall records (more wins, fewer losses) during the regular season. There are many variations used to determine the champion, the league's top prize.


The off-season, vacation time, or close season is the time of year when there is no official competition. Although upper management continues to work, the athletes will take much vacation time off. Also, various events such as drafts, transfers and important off-season free agent signings occur. Generally, most athletes stay in shape during the off-season in preparation for the next season. Certain new rules in the league may be made during this time, and will become enforced during the next regular season.

As most countries which have a league in a particular sport will operate their regular season at roughly the same time as the others, international tournaments may be arranged during the off season.

For example, most European football leagues club competions runs from July or August to May, subsequently major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championship are organised to occur in June and July.

Seasons by league

The table represents typical seasons for some leagues by month. Blank or white denotes off-season and pre-season months and solid colors mark the rest of the year. Leagues in the same sport use the same color.

  • "Q" denotes pre-competition qualifiers
  • "S" denotes the start of the regular-season.
  • "P" denotes playoff(s)/postseason/knockout stages.
  • "F" denotes Final(s).
League Sport Countries/Regions Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
A-League Association football Australia New Zealand       P F         S    
A1 Grand Prix Motor racing Worldwide                 S      
AFC Champions League Association football Asia   Q S           P P F  
AFL Australian rules football Australia     S           P F      
ATP & WTA Tours Tennis Worldwide                     F S
ANZ Championship Netball Australia New Zealand   S       P F          
CAF Champions League Association football Africa   Q Q             P F  
Aviva Premiership Rugby union England         P F       S      
Bundesliga Association football Germany               S        
Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Association football Brazil         S              
CFL Canadian football Canada             S       P F  
CONCACAF Champions League Association football North America   P P F     Q S      
Copa Libertadores Association football South America S P P F            
Copa Sudamericana Association football South America               S P P F
County Championship Cricket England Wales         S      
European Tour[nb 1] Golf Europe[nb 2]                       S
Formula One Motor racing Worldwide     S                  
Heineken Cup Rugby union Europe       P F           S  
Indian Premier League Cricket India[nb 3]       S P F            
IndyCar Series Motor racing United States[nb 4]     S                  
KHL Ice hockey Belarus Kazakhstan Latvia Russia Slovakia[nb 5]     P P F         S      
La Liga Association football Spain               S        
Ligue 1 Association football France               S        
LPGA Tour Golf United States[nb 6] S                      
MLB Baseball United States Canada       S           P F    
MLL Lacrosse United States Canada         S     F        
MLS Association football United States Canada     S             P F  
Grand Prix motorcycle racing Motor racing Worldwide     S                  
NASCAR Motor racing United States Canada Mexico[nb 7]   S             P[nb 8] P P F  
NBA Basketball United States Canada       P P P F       S    
NBL Australasia Basketball Australia New Zealand   P P F         S      
NFL American football United States[nb 9] P F             S      
UFL[nb 10] American football United States               S   PF    
NHL Ice hockey Canada United States       P P P F       S    
NLL Lacrosse United States Canada S       F              
NRL Rugby league Australia New Zealand     S           P F    
NCAA basketball Basketball United States     P F             S  
NCAA football American football United States F               S   P[nb 11] F/P[nb 11]
NPB Baseball Japan     S             P F  
PGA Tour Golf United States[nb 12] S             P P      
PBA Basketball Philippines P P   F   S   P   F F S P   F   S    
Premier League Association football England[nb 13]               S        
Primera División (Argentina) Association football Argentina[nb 14]   S           S        
Primera División (Mexico) Association football Mexico[nb 15] S       P   F     S     P P   F
RaboDirect Pro12 Rugby union Ireland Scotland Wales Italy[nb 16]         P F       S      
Serie A Association football Italy               S        
Sheffield Shield Cricket Australia     F             S    
Super League Rugby league England France   S             P P F    
Super Rugby Rugby union Australia New Zealand South Africa   S       P[nb 17] P F[nb 18] P F[nb 19]        
Top 14 Rugby union France         P F[nb 20]   S        
Turkish Airlines Euroleague Basketball Europe P P P P F       Q Q S    
UEFA Champions League Association football Europe   P P P F   Q Q S      
UEFA Europa League Association football Europe   P P P F   Q Q S      
V8 Supercars Motor racing Australia[nb 21]   S                    
WNBA Basketball United States         S     P P F[nb 22] F[nb 22]    
WRC Motor racing Worldwide S                      
  1. ^ The current scheduling, in which the season starts in mid-December of the previous calendar year, took effect in 2010. The 2010 season ended in late November, and the 2011 season will end in early December.
  2. ^ The bulk of the tour's sole-sanctioned events are in Europe, with some in the Persian Gulf countries. It co-sanctions many other events with tours in Asia, Africa, and Australia. Along with the PGA Tour, the European Tour co-sanctions the major championships and the World Golf Championships; one of the majors is held in the UK, one of the WGC events is held in China, and the rest of these events are in the US. A new WGC event in South Africa will be launched in 2012.
  3. ^ The 2009 season was played in South Africa because of security issues related to the Indian general elections scheduled for the same time as the league.
  4. ^ Two races are held in Canada and one in Brazil. Another race in Japan was discontinued following the 2011 season.
  5. ^ As of the current 2011–12 season, there are 19 teams in Russia and one each in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Slovakia. Another Russian team temporarily withdrew from the league after a plane crash wiped out the team, but will return for 2012–13.
  6. ^ Most LPGA events are held in the US, but it also sole-sanctions official money events in Thailand, Singapore, Mexico, China, Canada, Malaysia, and Taiwan, as well as an unofficial event in Brazil. It co-sanctions two European tournaments, including one of its majors, with the Ladies European Tour, and also co-sanctions events with the Korean LPGA and Japan LPGA in those countries. Starting in 2012, the LPGA will co-sanction an event with the ALPG Tour in Australia.
  7. ^ The top-level Sprint Cup Series and third-level Camping World Truck Series race only in the US. The second-level Nationwide Series has one race in Canada, and previously had a race in Mexico. NASCAR also operates many regional developmental series in the US and national series in Canada and Mexico.
  8. ^ NASCAR uses a playoff-style system only in the Sprint Cup Series. The bulk of the Cup Series season is used to determine the 12 drivers who qualify to contend for the season title in a 10-race finale known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In all other NASCAR series, the season is contested as a unified whole, with all races counting equally toward determining the series champion.
  9. ^ The Buffalo Bills play one annual regular-season home game in Toronto, and the NFL currently takes one other regular-season game outside the US (London since 2007).
  10. ^ The UFL season originally started in October and ended in late November. As of the 2011 season, it begins in mid-August and ends in late October.
  11. ^ a b The top-level Division I FBS does not use a playoff, instead using a series of bowl games beginning in December and culminating in the Bowl Championship Series in early January. All other NCAA divisions determine their champions on the field in a playoff tournament that starts in November. The playoffs in Divisions II and III end in December. Since the 2010 season, the Division I FCS playoffs end in January.
  12. ^ Almost all of the PGA Tour's sole-sanctioned events are in the US proper, but the tour also has events in Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Along with the European Tour, the PGA Tour co-sanctions the major championships and the World Golf Championships; one of the majors is held in the UK, one of the WGC events is held in China, and the rest of these events are in the US. A new WGC event in South Africa will be launched in 2012.
  13. ^ A team from Wales is competing in the current 2011–12 season.
  14. ^ Like many association football leagues in Latin America, Argentina divides its season into two phases with separate champions in each phase. Champions are determined at the end of league play in each phase.
  15. ^ Like many association football leagues in Latin America, Mexico divides its season into two phases with separate champions in each phase. Unlike most leagues in that sport, the Mexican Primera uses a knockout playoff, involving the top eight teams after league play, to determine its champions.
  16. ^ Italy joined beginning in the 2010–11 season.
  17. ^ The playoffs, or "finals" as they are officially called, begin in late June in Rugby World Cup years.
  18. ^ During World Cup years, the final match is held in July; in other years, the finals will begin in July.
  19. ^ In non-World Cup years, the final match will be held in August.
  20. ^ Depending on the calendar, the final may fall on the last weekend of May in some seasons.
  21. ^ Currently, one race is held in New Zealand and one in the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, a race in the USA will be added, and a race may also be added in the Philippines. Longer-term plans call for additional races in Hong Kong, India, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea.
  22. ^ a b During Summer Olympic Years


Sport Duration
American football August to December, playoffs from January to early February. College bowl games from December to January. Indoor football, past professional leagues such as the USFL and XFL, and some amateur leagues play in the February to August season.
Association football Usually August to May in the Northern Hemisphere, and February to November in the Southern Hemisphere. Exceptions are generally for one of two reasons:
  • In some northern countries with severe winter weather (such as Norway and Sweden), the season is contested within a calendar year (roughly March to November) to avoid the worst weather.
  • In some countries where association football competes with locally more popular football codes (e.g., Major League Soccer in the U.S., A-League in Australia), the season is arranged so as to minimize the time that it is in conflict with the more popular code(s). This arrangement also eases scheduling concerns regarding venues used for multiple football codes.

See Domestic association football season for details.

Australian rules football March to October
Baseball April to early October, with postseason extending up to early November.
Basketball In most countries, late October to mid-April, with playoffs extending up to mid-June. The three major exceptions to this rule are:
  • The U.S. college basketball season begins in mid-November. The regular season ends in the first days of March, followed by conference tournaments and then national championship tournaments that run into early April.
  • The Philippine Basketball Association has a unique calendar. Its season runs from early October to August, and is divided into "conferences"—not the North American concept of subgroupings within a larger competition, but rather separate competitions involving the same set of teams, similar to association football's Apertura and Clausura in Latin America. The season was divided into three conferences from 1975 to 2003. It then transitioned to a two-conference season in 2004, and also changed to a season spanning two calendar years, with the transition completed in the 2004–05 season. The PBA returned to a three-conference season effective in 2010–11. The season starts with the Philippine Cup, restricted to Filipino players, followed by two other tournaments in which teams can field one non-Filipino, the Commissioner's and Governors Cups.
  • The WNBA season is scheduled during the offseason of its parent league, the NBA. When the league was launched, all of its teams were owned by NBA teams and generally played in the same arenas as their NBA counterparts; however, this has changed over time. The scheduling also allows many WNBA players to participate in overseas leagues, primarily in Europe and Australia, during the traditional basketball season.
Canadian football July to November
Cricket Year-round. Domestic seasons typically held in the driest period of the year—summer in temperate climates, dry season in tropical climates.
Golf Year-round
Ice hockey Early October to mid-April, with playoffs extending up to early June.
Motor racing Year-round, but generally concentrated from March to October.
Rugby league Late February to October in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Rugby union September to late May, sometimes the first weekend in June, in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, Super Rugby (beginning in 2011) starts in February and ends in early July in World Cup years and mid-August in other years. Domestic competitions in New Zealand and South Africa will then overlap slightly with the Super season, starting in July and ending in October or November.
Tennis Year-round

Notes and references

See also

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