The Issue of the Relegation Match

For a long time, the West German second tier was divided into two divisions; Nord and Süd (North and South). The winners of each division would be promoted, and the runners up of each division would play one another for the last remaining Bundesliga spot. Three Bundesliga teams would be relegated every season.

In 1981, the Bundesliga introduced a relegation/promotion match for the very first time. The third-worst team in the Bundesliga played against the third-best team in the second division across two legs, with the victors gaining/retaining a place in the top flight. This lasted until 1991, when Germany reunified and former East German clubs were admitted into a unified German system. The team from the Bundesliga won the majority of these matches, and the aggregate scores of all of these matches are listed below (Bundesliga team listed first):

1981/82 Season: Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Kickers Offenbach

1982/83 Season: FC Schalke 04 2-4 Bayer Uerdingen (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

1983/84 Season: Eintracht Frankfurt 6-1 MSV Duisburg

1984/85 Season: Arminia Bielefeld 1-3 FC Saarbrücken (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

1985/86 Season: Borussia Dortmund 3-3 Fortuna Köln (Tiebreaker Match: Dortmund 8-0 Köln)

1986/87 Season: FC Homburg 5-2 FC St. Pauli

1987/88 Season: Waldhof Mannheim 4-4 SV Darmstadt (Tiebreaker Match: Mannheim 0-0 Darmstadt (A.E.T.), 5-4 pen.)

1988/89 Season: Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2 FC Saarbrücken

1989/90 Season: VfL Bochum 2-1 FC Saarbrücken

1990/91 Season: FC St. Pauli 2-2 Stuttgarter Kickers (Tiebreaker Match St. Pauli 1-3 Kickers) (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

Through ten years, only three second-tier teams earned their promotion through the playoff. Then, in 1991, Germany officially reunified, and so did German football. To ease the transition into a new era, in the 1991/92 season, there were 20 teams in the Bundesliga, and the bottom four were relegated (The top two teams of the DDR-Oberliga, the East German football league, were placed into the Bundesliga - Dresden and Rostock). Only two 2. Bundesliga teams were promoted to replace them that year. Over the next couple of decades, through the 2007/08 season, the bottom three teams in the Bundesliga were automatically relegated, and the top three 2. Bundesliga teams were automatically promoted.

Then, starting in the 2008/09 season, the promotion/relegation match was brought back, and the third-worst Bundesliga team would play against the third-best 2. Bundesliga teams in a two-legged affair once more. This time, however, instead of a tiebreaker match deciding which team advances in the event of a tie, away goals came into effect. The aggregate scores of the matches since then are listed below (Bundesliga team listed first):

2008/09 Season: Energie Cottbus 0-5 FC Nürnberg (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

2009/10 Season: FC Nürnberg 3-0 FC Augsburg

2010/11 Season: Mönchengladbach 2-1 VfL Bochum

2011/12 Season: Hertha Berlin 3-4 Fortuna Düsseldorf (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

2012/13 Season: TSG Hoffenheim 5-2 FC Kaiserslautern

2013/14 Season: Hamburger SV 1-1 Greuther Fürth (Hamburg won on away goals)

2014/15 Season: Hamburger SV 3-2 Karlsruher SC (Second Leg went into A.E.T.)

2015/16 Season: Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 FC Nürnberg

2016/17 Season: VfL Wolfsburg 2-0 Eintracht Braunschweig

2017/18 Season: VfL Wolfsburg 4-1 Holstein Kiel

2018/19 Season: VfB Stuttgart 2-2 Union Berlin (Union won on away goals) (2. Bundesliga Team Promoted)

2019/20 Season: Werder Bremen 2-2 FC Heidenheim (Bremen won on away goals)

2020/21 Season: FC Köln 5-2 Holstein Kiel

2021/22 Season: Hertha Berlin 2-1 Hamburger SV

In fourteen matches, the second division team has only prevailed on three occasions, which is an abysmal rate of 21.4%. Further, over the last ten matches, the second flight team has only won promotion once, and that was the magical Union Berlin back in 2019. Other teams, such as Fürth and Heidenheim, have come so close, only to lose on away goals. This brutal rule has been eliminated by UEFA, and tied matches after two legs will proceed to extra time regardless of when/where the goals were scored in the future.

This amendment to the rules may help even the odds in the relegation match, but that is not a guarantee. Now instead of pointing out a problem and doing nothing about it, I have a possible solution to this dilemma.

Proposal #1: Single Tie

My first idea is fairly straightforward. Instead of a two legged tie, a single match in a neutral location (perhaps the Olympiastadion in Berlin) would determine which team will be in the Bundesliga for the next season. If tied, the match could either have extra time and penalties if needed, or could go straight into penalties after 90 minutes (similar to the DFL-Supercup). The bottom two teams in the Bundesliga and top two teams in the 2. Bundesliga swap places as normal.

Proposal #2: Automatic Relegation with Promotion Playoffs

The bottom three teams in the Bundesliga are automatically relegated. The top two teams in the 2. Bundesliga gain automatic promotion, while teams that finish 3rd through 5th qualify for the promotion playoffs. The 4th and 5th placed teams play one another (either one or two legs), and the victor goes on to play the 3rd placed team in a single match (neutral location) to determine which one gets promoted.

Proposal #3: Separate Promotion and Relegation Playoffs

Lastly, the most complicated proposal. The 15th and 16th placed Bundesliga teams would play one another in a two legged tie (one home, one away with no away goals), and the winner would avoid relegation. Separately, the promotion concept either remains the same from Proposal #2, or the 3rd and 4th placed second-tier teams would simply play one another in a two-legged tie to decide which team should be promoted.

I believe my proposals could bring much-needed Bundesliga excitement once most of it is done for the spring, and really make the playoffs much more high-stakes and exciting. Don't get me wrong, the emotions of the playoff are already fantastic (i.e. Union's promotion in 2019), but something like this could bring even more to the table.

Agree with my proposals? Which is your favorite? Have one of your own? Let me know in the comments!


This year's promotion/relegation match is almost here, and Stuttgart is either facing Heidenheim (never played in the Bundesliga) or Hamburg (last year's loser).

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