How many clubs move between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2? And how is it all decided? - © Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images
How many clubs move between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2? And how is it all decided? - © Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

How does promotion and relegation work in the Bundesliga?


German professional football employs a distinctive method to determine the clubs to be promoted to and relegated from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.

While in many European leagues the top three teams are automatically promoted and the bottom three are relegated, Germany’s top two tiers only have two automatic movers between the divisions, while a two-legged play-off system is used to determine whether a third club stays up or goes down.

What is the relegation play-off?

The Bundesliga’s play-off differs from more conventional 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.

Watch: Union Berlin made history in their 2019 play-off with Stuttgart

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. The away goals rule will no longer be used as of the 2021/22 season.

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).

When does the relegation play-off take place?

The two legs are played following the final matchday of the season, which in 2021/22 fell on Saturday, 14 May for the Bundesliga and the following day for Bundesliga 2. The first leg at the home of the Bundesliga club (Hertha Berlin) was played on Thursday, 19 May, while the return fixture was hosted by the Bundesliga 2 side (Hamburg) on Monday, 23 May.

Both these matches make use of VAR and goal-line technology.

Watch: Highlights of the most dramatic relegation play-off to date

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, 2-0)
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, 2-1)
2013/14: Hamburg 1-1 Greuther Fürth (0-0, 1-1 – HSV won on away goals)
2014/15: Hamburg 3-2 Karlsruhe (1-1, 2-1 a.e.t.)
2015/16: Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Nuremberg (1-1, 1-0)
2016/17: Wolfsburg 2-0 Eintracht Braunschweig (1-0, 1-0)
2017/18: Wolfsburg 4-1 Holstein Kiel (3-1, 1-0)
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, 5-1)
2021/22: Hertha Berlin 2-1 Hamburg (0-1, 0-2)