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  4. How does promotion and relegation work in the Bundesliga?

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 promotion/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 promotion/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 be two 15-minute periods of extra-time and a penalty shoot-out if needs be. The away goals rule is no longer 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 promotion/relegation play-off take place?

The two legs are played following the final matchday of the season, which in 2022/23 fell on Saturday 27 May for the Bundesliga and Sunday 28 May for Bundesliga 2. The first leg at the home of the Bundesliga club (VfB Stuttgart) was, therefore played on Thursday 1 June, with the return fixture hosted by the Bundesliga 2 side (Hamburg) on Monday 5 June.

Those dates could have been moved if one or both of the clubs had reached the DFB Cup final (3 June) or a European final. The rules state that the first leg is hosted by the club that has 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 games now make use of VAR and goal-line technology.

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

- Clubs listed first finished 16th in the Bundesliga.
- Results in brackets represent the two legs, with an asterisk (*) denoting which team played at home first.
- 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)
2022/23: VfB Stuttgart* 6-1 Hamburg (3-0, 1-3)

Watch: Stuttgart retained their top-flight status against Hamburg in 2023

Promotion to Bundesliga 2

The same play-off method has also been used for promotion to Bundesliga 2 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.

Bundesliga 2 promotion/relegation play-off results since 2008/09

- Clubs listed first finished 16th in Bundesliga 2.
- Results in brackets represent the two legs, with an asterisk (*) denoting which team played at home first.
- The club in bold won the tie and either retained their Bundesliga 2 status or were promoted.

2008/09: Osnabrück 0-2 Paderborn* (1-0, 0-1)
2009/10: Hansa Rostock 0-3 Ingolstadt* (1-0, 0-2)
2010/11: Osnabrück 2-4 Dynamo Dresden* (1-1, 1-3 a.e.t.)
2011/12: Karlsruhe 3-3 Jahn Regensburg* (1-1, 2-2 – Regensburg won on away goals)
2012/13: Dynamo Dresden 2-1 Osnabrück* (1-0, 2-0)
2013/14: Arminia Bielefeld 5-5 Darmstadt* (1-3, 2-4 a.e.t. – Darmstadt won on away goals)
2014/15: 1860 Munich 2-1 Holstein Kiel* (0-0, 2-1)
2015/16: Duisburg 1-4 Würzburger Kickers* (2-0, 1-2)
2016/17: 1860 Munich 1-3 Jahn Regensburg* (1-1, 0-2)
2017/18: Erzgebirge Aue 3-1 Karlsruhe* (0-0, 3-1)
2018/19: Ingolstadt 4-4 Wehen Wiesbaden* (1-2, 2-3 – Wiesbaden won on away goals)
2019/20: Nuremberg* 3-3 Ingolstadt (2-0, 3-1 – Nuremberg won on away goals)
2020/21: Osnabrück 3-4 Ingolstadt* (3-0, 3-1)
2021/22: Dynamo Dresden 0-2 Kaiserslautern* (0-0, 0-2)
2022/23: Arminia Bielefeld 1-6 Wehen Wiesbaden* (4-0, 1-2)

Watch: Wiesbaden saw off Bielefeld to earn promotion in 2023

Note 2019/20: Bayern Munich’s reserves won the 3. Liga but were not eligible for promotion, therefore second and third place automatically went up and the team in fourth (Ingolstadt) contested the play-off

Note 2022/23: Freiburg's reserves came second in the 3. Liga but were not eligible for promotion, therefore third place (Osnabrück) went up automatically and the team in fourth (Wiesbaden) contested the play-off

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