In many sports leagues around the world (with U.S., Canadian and Australian professional leagues being the most notable exceptions), promotion and relegation is a process that takes place at the end of each season in which teams are transferred between divisions. The best-ranked teams in each division are promoted to the next-highest division, and at the same time the worst-ranked teams in the higher division are relegated to the lower division. This process may continue down through several levels, with teams being exchanged between levels 1 and 2, levels 2 and 3, levels 3 and 4, and so on. Sometimes, qualifying rounds are used to promote and relegate.
The number of teams exchanged between each pair of divisions is normally identical, unless the higher division wishes to change the size of its membership or has lost one or more of its clubs (to financial insolvency, for example) and wishes to restore its previous membership size, in which case fewer teams may be relegated from that division, or accepted for promotion from the division below. Such variations will almost inevitably cause a knock-on effect through the lower divisions. For example, in 1995 the English Premier League voted to reduce its numbers by two and achieved the desired change by relegating four teams instead of the usual three, whilst only allowing two promotions from the Football League First Division.
The system is seen as the defining characteristic of the "European" form of professional sports league organization. Promotion and relegation have the effect of maintaining a hierarchy of leagues and divisions, according to the relative strength of their teams. They also maintain the importance of games played by many low-ranked teams near the end of the season, which may be at risk of relegation; in contrast, a low-ranked U.S./Canadian team's final games serve little purpose, and in fact losing may even be beneficial to such teams, yielding a better position in the next year's draft. The downside of relegation, however, is the potential severe economic hardship or even bankruptcy for demoted clubs. Some leagues (most notably English football's Premier League) offer "parachute payments" to its relegated teams for the following year(s), sums which often are higher than the prize money received by some non-relegated teams, in order to protect them from bankruptcy. There is of course a corresponding bonanza for owners of promoted clubs.
Teams in line for promotion may have to satisfy certain non-playing conditions in order to be accepted by the higher league, such as financial solvency, stadium capacity, and facilities. If these are not satisfied, a lower-ranked team may be promoted in their place, or a team in the league above may be saved from relegation.
For example, here are the promotion and relegation rules for the top few levels of the English football league system:
The current promotion and relegation rules for the top two divisions of other major leagues are:
Other relegation schemes consider points acquired over more than one season. For instance in the Argentine first division, the points average of the last 3 seasons is computed, and the 2 teams with the lowest averages are directly relegated. The 3rd and 4th from the bottom play home-and-away matches against the 3rd and 4th from the top of the second division respectively (process called "promoción"), and the winner of each key stays in, or moves to, first division. Thus, the number of teams promoted each year varies between two and four. Newly-promoted teams only average the seasons since their last promotion (see 2003/2004 Argentine Relegation for an example).
While the purpose of the promotion/relegation system is to maintain competitive balance, it may also be used as a disciplinary tool in special cases. On several occasions the Italian Football Federation has relegated clubs found to have been involved in match-fixing, most recently in 2006 when the season's initial champions Juventus were relegated to Serie B, and two other teams were initially relegated but then restored to Serie A after appeal (see 2006 Serie A scandal).
A small number of clubs have gone several decades without being relegated. Arsenal of England, for instance, have only been relegated once in their entire history, and have been in the top flight continuously since 1919 - by far the longest such run in English football.
An even smaller number of clubs have managed to avoid relegation entirely throughout their existence. Among them are:
Since the formation of the Premier League as the new top division in England in 1992, the following have never been outside the Premier League:
In the Republic of Ireland
In the Netherlands
A notable exception to this system is sport in the United States, Canada and Australia where teams are not promoted or relegated. Colleges, most notably the extensive and lucrative NCAA programs (rather than sport clubs as in Europe), act as primary suppliers of players to two professional team sports: American football and basketball. Baseball drafts players out of either college or high school, while most hockey players are drafted out of major junior, a youth club system, with a growing number of players coming out of American collegiate programs.
American/Canadian baseball and hockey do in fact have lower-level professional leagues, referred to as minor leagues, but most of these teams affiliate with a major league team in player development contracts. Likewise the National Basketball Association has recently begun operating its own developmental league. The minor league system can be viewed as an informal relegation system based on individual players rather than teams. Players remain employees of (or, in the case of hockey, under contract to) the parent organization and are assigned to the minor league level appropriate to their skill and development. (In baseball, there are roughly five levels, known as Rookie, Short-Season A, A, AA, and AAA, with each major league team having one to three exclusively affiliated minor league teams at each level.) Skillful players are often promoted, or 'called up', to the parent major league team while underperforming players or players recovering from a major injury are 'sent down' to an affiliated minor league team. (Major league players recovering from injury are often sent to A or AA level teams, however, for reasons of geographical proximity, rather than level of competition; this is particularly true of teams based in California, Texas and Florida.) Transfers of players between various levels of minor leagues are also common. Such promotions and demotions, however, are not mandatory but are made at management's discretion, and may be made at any time during a season.
Recently, the United Soccer Leagues of North America, having teams from across the United States, Canada, Bermuda and Puerto Rico discussed a relegation system and set up two leagues, the USL divisions one and two. This still differs from the promotion and relegation model because it is limited to two levels; the European systems usually extend over all ranks from the lowliest village amateur teams to the nation's top professional teams. Although the system is now in place it is not compulsory and is rarely used. Occasionally teams voluntarily relegate themselves for financial reasons while ambitious second division teams are promoted by the league. There is no relegation from Major League Soccer with the league citing the main reason as the nature of the franchise system. The owner has purchased the right to operate a major league team in a specific city and relegation would in effect be a breach of that contract by the league.
No gridiron football leagues in North America use the promotion and relegation system. Though teams in the indoor football leagues often jump from league to league on an annual basis, most of the indoor leagues are considered roughly on par with each other, and as such are not being promoted or relegated at all. The Iowa Barnstormers and Albany Firebirds, at least in name, were relegated from the top level Arena Football League down to its minor league, AF2, but the AFL and AF2 incarnations of each team were not the same legal entities, and the only thing each team had in common with its counterpart was its market location and trademarks (it also, unlike the European model, had nothing to do with records). In 2006, the American Indoor Football League hastily and temporarily promoted three amateur teams (among them the Chambersburg Cardinals) to the professional ranks to fill holes in the schedule. Similarly, the 2009 New Jersey Revolution professional indoor football team left the Continental Indoor Football League and played an abbreviated three-game schedule, all against semi-pro teams, which were presumably paid for their appearances. In both cases, their promotion was a matter of proximity and convenience and as such had nothing to do with the teams' finances or performance on the field; in all seven of the games that involved a semi-pro team and an indoor professional team, the professional team won decisively, with many of the games being shutouts (very rare in indoor football). These are the only known cases of an amateur team moving to the professional ranks since the formation of professional football in the early part of the 20th century. Though an urban legend states that during the first NFL season, the Chicago Tigers and either the Decatur Staleys or Chicago Cardinals struck a wager that would see the loser of that year's Thanksgiving game between the two be relegated out of the league, there are significant problems with the legend and it is not generally believed to be true. Some leagues of women's American football use an informal multi-tiered promotion and relegation system, though not on a pure basis; regional concerns also factor into promotion and relegation decisions.
Australia also does not feature any promotion and relegation systems in any of the major professional codes—Australian rules football, rugby union, rugby league, or football (soccer). Many amateur club competitions in these and other sports have them, but only with amateur ranks.
In Japan, the J. League uses a promotion and relegation system (for the first two divisions it is the same as the Spanish, French, and Greek systems above), but professional baseball does not, perhaps owing to American influence. Professional American football, despite being an American sport, uses a promotion and relegation system in Japan as well — which the now-defunct NFL Europa did not have. Similar differences between football and baseball have become established in other East Asian countries where both games are played professionally, namely South Korea, China, and Taiwan.
Professional sumo wrestling, which is not a team sport at all, has promotion and relegation between ranks of individual wrestlers. A Yokozuna, or grand champion, however, can never be relegated once he has achieved the distinction; he is instead expected to retire when he is no longer competitive at the top level.
In baseball, the earliest American sport to develop professional leagues, the National Association of Base Ball Players was established in 1857 as a national governing body for the game. In many respects it would resemble England's Football Association when founded in 1863. Both espoused strict amateurism in their early years and welcomed hundreds of clubs as members.
However, baseball's National Association was not able to survive the onset of professionalism. It responded to the trend — clubs secretly paying or indirectly compensating players — by establishing a "professional" class for 1869. So quickly as 1871, most of those clubs broke away and formed the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP). That new, professional Association was open at a modest fee, but it proved to be unstable, and it was replaced by the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs in 1876. The founders of the new League judged that in order to prosper, they must make baseball's highest level of competition a "closed shop" with a strict limit on the number of teams, each member having exclusive local rights.
The modest National League guarantee of a place in the league year after year would permit the owners to monopolize fan bases in their exclusive territories and give them the confidence to invest in infrastructure such as improved ballparks. In turn, those would guarantee the revenues to support traveling halfway across a continent for games. Indeed, after its first season the new league banked on its still doubtful stability by expelling its members in New York and Philadelphia (the two largest cities), because they had breached agreements to visit the four western clubs at the end of the season.
The NL's dominance of baseball was challenged several times but only by entire leagues, after its first few years; and usually with eight clubs, the established norm, a prohibitively high threshold for a new venture. Two challengers succeeded beyond the short-term, with the National League fighting off a challenge from the American Association after a decade (concluded 1891) and accepting parity with the American League in 1903 with the formation of the organization that would become Major League Baseball. The peace agreement between the NL and the AL did not change the "closed shop" of top-level baseball but rather entrenched it by including the AL in the shop. This was further confirmed by the Supreme Court's 1922 ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, giving MLB a legal monopoly over professional baseball.
In contrast to baseball's NABBP, the first governing body in English football survived the onset of professionalism, which it formally accepted in 1885. Perhaps the great geographical concentration of population and the corresponding short distances between urban centres was crucial. Certainly it provided the opportunity for more clubs developing large fan bases without incurring great travel costs. Indeed, professional football did not gain acceptance until after the turn of the 20th century in most of Southern England, and the earliest league members travelled only through the Midlands and North.
When The Football League was founded in 1888, it was not intended to be a rival of The Football Association but rather the top competition within it. The new league was not universally accepted as England's top-calibre competition right away. To help win fans of clubs outside The Football League, its circuit was not closed; rather, a system was established in which the worst teams at the end of each season would need to win re-election against any clubs wishing to join.
A rival league, the Football Alliance, was formed in 1889. When the two merged in 1892 it was not on equal terms; rather, most of the Alliance clubs were put in the new Football League Second Division, whose best teams would move up to the First Division in place of its worst teams. Another merger, with the top division of the Southern League in 1920, helped form the Third Division in similar fashion. Since then no new league has been formed of non-league clubs to try to achieve parity with The Football League (only to play at a lower level, like independent professional leagues in American baseball today).
For decades, teams finishing near the bottom of The Football League's lowest division(s) faced re-election rather than automatic relegation. But the concept of promotion and relegation had been firmly established and it eventually expanded to the football pyramid in place today. Meanwhile, The FA has remained English football's overall governing body, retaining amateur and professional clubs rather than breaking up.
Promotion and relegation are terms used in many sports.
Being promoted means moving up a league to one of a higher status. This usually happens when a team wins their league. Relegation normally happens to the team(s) at the bottom of the league at the end of the competition. They are moved down a league to one of a lower status.