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How does promotion and relegation work in German Bundesliga?

Published at :April 23, 2023 at 8:56 PM
Modified at :April 23, 2023 at 9:14 PM
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Rajat Chhajta

The system is quite different in the German top flight

The Bundesliga has always been one of most surprising leagues when it comes to match ups and intensity. In football, there are some mistakes that cost you a whole season. The margins are small, each time you make a mistake it can be a fateful one. Of course, one could argue, over a season mistakes or even bad luck can be balanced out. German professional football engages a typical method to determine the clubs to be promoted to and relegated from the Bundesliga and their 02nd tier, Bundesliga 2.

While in many European leagues, the top three teams are automatically promoted and the bottom three are relegated depending on their final match day points in that season, Germany’s top two tiers only have two automatic qualification between the divisions, while a two-legged play-off system is used to determine whether a third club stays up in the Bundesliga or gets relegated to the 02nd division.

Relegation play-off and How it works.

The play-off was re-introduced to the Bundesliga in 2008-09. It had previously been used between 1981 (the introduction of a single-division Bundesliga 2) and 1991 (the integration of East German clubs following reunification).

The Bundesliga’s play-off differs from fixtures referred to as play-offs that often feature four teams contesting a semi-final and a final. In Germany, the teams who finish 16th in the Bundesliga and third in Bundesliga 2 contest the relegation play-off. The first leg is played at the home of the Bundesliga side and the second leg is played at the home of the Bundesliga 2 team. The winner over two legs claims Bundesliga status in the season that follows.

In the case of a tie at the end of the two legs, there will then be two 15-minute periods of extra-time and penalties if needs be to decide the eventual winner of the tie. Similar to the Champions League, the away goals rule is no longer used as of the 2021-22 season.

Relegation play-off dates for 2022-23 season

The two legs of the play-offs are played following the final matchday of the season, which in 2022-23 falls on Saturday, 27 May for the Bundesliga and the following day for Bundesliga 2. The first leg at the home of the Bundesliga club is scheduled for Thursday, 01 June 2023, while the return fixture was hosted by the Bundesliga 2 side is set to be on Monday, 05 June.

Those dates can be moved if one or both of the clubs were to feature in the DFB Cup final (03 June) or even a European competition final. The rules state that the first leg is to be hosted by the club that had the most days since their last league fixture. A draw is held to determine the order of fixtures if both teams have had the same number of days off. Both legs make use of VAR and goal-line technology.

Relegation Battle for the 2022-23 season

FC Schalke 04  Bundesliga
FC Schalke 04 have really struggled in the Bundesliga this term

With seven matches to go until the end of the Bundesliga season, the relegation race is still not giving German football fans any answers on who will avoid the drop. With Schalke 04 vs. Hertha Berlin on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) having a significant impact on who will fall to the second division, the situation of the bottom three teams may become clearer or more muddled with the six bottom sides only being eight points apart.

Relegation play-off results since 2008-09

*Clubs listed first finished 16th in the Bundesliga. Results in brackets represent the two legs, the club in bold won the tie and either retained their Bundesliga status or were promoted*

2008/09: Energie Cottbus* 0-5 Nuremberg (0-3, 0-2)

2009/10: Nuremberg* 3-0 Augsburg (1-0, 0-2)

2010/11: Borussia Mönchengladbach* 2-1 Bochum (1-0, 1-1)

2011/12: Hertha Berlin* 3-4 Fortuna Düsseldorf (1-2, 2-2)

2012/13: Hoffenheim* 5-2 Kaiserslautern (3-1, 1-2)

2013/14: Hamburg* 1-1 Greuther Fürth (0-0, 1-1 – HSV won on away goals)

2014/15: Hamburg* 3-2 Karlsruhe (1-1, 1-2 a.e.t.)

2015/16: Eintracht Frankfurt* 2-1 Nuremberg (1-1, 0-1)

2016/17: Wolfsburg* 2-0 Eintracht Braunschweig (1-0, 0-1)

2017/18: Wolfsburg* 4-1 Holstein Kiel (3-1, 0-1)

2018/19: VfB Stuttgart* 2-2 Union Berlin (2-2, 0-0 – Union won on away goals)

2019/20: Werder Bremen* 2-2 Heidenheim (0-0, 2-2 – Bremen won on away goals)

2020/21: Cologne* 5-2 Holstein Kiel (0-1, 1-5)

2021/22: Hertha Berlin* 2-1 Hamburg (0-1, 0-2)

Promotion to Bundesliga 2

The same method of a play-off has also been used for promotion to 2. Bundesliga since the introduction of the 3. Liga in 2008. Again, the top two in the third division (who are eligible for promotion) automatically come up while the bottom two in the second tier drop down, while third takes on 16th for the final spot.


The current system has been in place for over 10 seasons and more. Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs have faced each other in the modern relegation play-off modus 11 times. Only three times a club from the lower league has won the promotion. 1. FC Nürnberg in 2009, Fortuna Düsseldorf in 2012 and, the latest club, Union Berlin in 2019. Putting together the home and away matches, 10 from 22 games were won by the 1. Bundesliga club in a 90 minute game, nine games ended in a draw and in only three games the winner was a club from the 2. Bundesliga – two of those wins achieved by Nürnberg in 2009.

Looking at the results, the relegation system seems unfair for the Bundesliga 2 clubs. Strangely enough, the 2. Bundesliga clubs have not done well against their opponents from the 3.Liga. From 11 rounds they have lost eight. In 22 games a 2. Bundesliga club has won only five times, seven matches have ended in a draw and ten times the winner has been a 3.Liga club. 

Looking at results we see the fact that Bundesliga 2 clubs have not done well in the relegation play-off modus. Putting together 22 play-off rounds either to gain promotion or avoid relegation, the Bundesliga 2 clubs have landed on the top only six times. 2.Bundesliga is often referred as a league between heaven and hell. Looking at the relegation play-off results, this seems to be surely the case.