Bouncebackability...What are the chances?

What do the previous 20 years' trends suggest for teams playing in new divisions across the English pyramid in 2023/24?

The football season heads towards its conclusion with the final promotion places being decided this week. Teams starting the 2023/24 season in a new division will be hoping to at least extend their stay in the league above or bounce straight back to the division they were previously relegated from.

Newly promoted and relegated teams are typically targeted in preseason predictions as those who may struggle to beat the drop and bounce back immediately respectively, but what do the last 20 seasons show regarding the outcome of those debutant teams?

Skylab: EPA investigates the fates of teams in their new league, how each league differs from the other and what trends to look out for to support predictions in 2023/24.

Headline stats

  • League Two is the most favourable for promoted teams. In the past 20 years, no team has been relegated right after promotion and 17% have achieved back-to-back promotions, higher than any other division. CC Wrexham AFC & Notts County.
  • Of all teams promoted to the Premier League, 57% of them stay up in their first season, however, only 28% of teams that are promoted via the playoffs stay up
  • Bouncebackability? Chances reduce from 28.5% to 13.5% the lower down the pyramid you are
  • Spending to survive… Over the last 5 years, an average of £78m net is spent by promoted teams. Of those relegated, the average spend is £18m.

Analysing the past 20-years, 250 clubs have been promoted across the English Football League pyramid (including the National League to League Two). 66% of clubs stayed up in their first year following promotion, 22% were relegated, whilst 6% enjoyed back-to-back promotions.

The league that offers the best outlook for promoted teams are those entering League Two from the National League. No team in the past 20 years have been relegated immediately following promotion, 17% achieved back-to-back promotions through either the automatic places or the play-offs. With only 2 promotion spots available to the National League, and one only being guaranteed automatically, the value of being promoted into the football league cannot be understated.

Survival percentage drops off with each division you go up, League One sits at 67% with Championship slightly dropping to 66%. The lowest survival rate belongs to the Premier League, 57% of teams promoted from the Championship into the Premier League managed at least a second season in the division. Only 28% of teams that stayed up were those who were promoted via the playoffs.

Promotion Relegation Chart 1

Making way for those heading up are the teams who have suffered relegation, who ideally bounce back immediately. For teams relegated from the Premier League, only 28.5% achieve promotion the first time of asking, combining both automatic and playoff promotion. 46% finished outside an automatic and playoff spot, and there have been two back-to-back relegations in the previous 20 seasons. Although in the reverse of the promoted teams, the frequency of an immediate promotion reduces as you go further down the pyramid. Teams relegated from League Two to the National League, only 13.5% of teams have achieved this, given that only two teams are promoted, and one being via the play-offs, this highlights the importance of football league status for teams trying to avoid the national league drop.

Promotion Relegation Chart 2


Promotion and relegation also bring challenges when looking at the financial dealings of clubs, those getting promoted must now compete with teams spending more, whilst relegated teams may have to sell assets. In the case of the Premier League where teams often flex their financial strength, newly promoted teams may decide whether to go all in on improving the squad to hold their league position or consolidate and build upon the squad that got them promoted, risking a swift return to the Championship.

Over the past 5 years, an average of £78m was spent by the newly promoted Premier League teams, of these 15 teams, 7 stayed up, whilst 8 were relegated. Conversely, teams relegated into the Championship spend on average £18m, with outgoings far outweighing this number, averaging £39m in assets sold.

Promotion Relegation Chart 5

In today’s modern game, whatever the approach, ensuring your strategy is supported by evidence-based decisions is the key to success, removing any assumptions, bias, and calculating all probabilities.

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