At the end of the season, the bottom two finishing clubs in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 are relegated to Bundesliga 2 and Liga 3 respectively. The fight against relegation from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, and for promotion to the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, takes place as follows.
How the relegation play-offs proceed
Two relegation play-offs are played between the third-last team in the Bundesliga and the team placed third in Bundesliga 2. The same happens between the third-last team in Bundesliga 2 and the team placed third in Liga 3. The relegation play-offs are played on a first leg and return match basis, according to the rules of the UEFA club championships for games in the knock-out system. The club with more days free from play before the first leg according to the fixture list has the right to play the second leg game at home. Where both teams have an equal number of days free from play, the decision shall be made by drawing lots.
Since the reintroduction of the relegation play-offs in the 2008-09 season, there is no longer a third deciding match as provided for in earlier rules in place up to 1991. Since the relegation play-offs are held as two-legged ties as per the DFL regulations and in line with the regulations for UEFA club competitions, which apply to the staging of matches in the knock-out format, the away goals rule no longer applies in the relegation play-offs from the 2021-22 season – as is the case in the European competitions. If scores are level after both legs, the second leg will go to extra time comprising two periods of 15 minutes. If no goals are scored in extra time, the winner will be determined by a penalty shoot-out.
The winners of the relegation/promotion games qualify for the Bundesliga or the Bundesliga 2 (or remain there, as the case may be), and the losers are relegated to Bundesliga 2 or Liga 3 (or remain there, as the case may be). DFL GmbH determines the match schedule for games played between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs, while the fixtures between the Bundesliga 2 and Liga 3 clubs are set by DFL e.V. in coordination with DFB. Relegation from and promotion to Bundesliga 2 is also regulated according to Articles 46, 54 and 55 of the DFB rules of the game.
History of the relegation play-offs
The term relegation became known in Germany in 1981 after the introduction of the single-division Bundesliga 2 in conjunction with promotion to the Bundesliga. Following the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963, two teams were selected from the first and second teams of the then five second-level regional leagues (South, Southwest, West, North and Berlin) for promotion to the Bundesliga. This system remained in place until 1974.
The Bundesliga 2 was introduced in 1974. 40 clubs, split between two divisions (North and South) played against each other for the first time for promotion. It was determined that the respective winners of each division would be promoted to the Bundesliga, while the two runners up would play a home and away round to select a third team for promotion. The three teams at the bottom of the table were relegated from the Bundesliga to Bundesliga 2 North or Bundesliga 2 South.
The single-division Bundesliga 2 was introduced in 1981 with 20 clubs, and the two-leg relegation/promotion play-off games that we know today were played for the first time between the 16th-placed Bundesliga club and the third-placed Bundesliga 2 club. In 1986, 1988 and 1991, when the two-leg play-off failed to produce a winner, a third relegation/promotion/remain play-off game had to be played. In 1988, after SV Darmstadt 98 and SV Waldhof Mannheim failed to score a single goal in the play-off even after extra time, the game went to a penalty shoot-out for the first time, which SV Waldhof won 5:4.
Following German reunification in 1991, the East German Football Association (DFV) was dissolved and the Northeast German Football Association (NOFV) was integrated into the DFB. As a result of this merger, F.C. Hansa Rostock and SG Dynamo Dresden were promoted from the GDR premier league to the Bundesliga. 20 teams therefore competed in the Bundesliga in the 1991/92 season, of which four teams had to be relegated and only two promoted, so as to return the championship to 18 teams. The Bundesliga 2 was even played with 24 clubs in the 1991/92 season – to accommodate six clubs from the former GDR premier league.
From the 1992/93 season up to and including the 2007/08 season, three clubs were relegated or promoted directly from and to the Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2.
On 9 October 2007, the DFL decided to reinstate the relegation/promotion games again for the 2008/09 season. This rule has applied ever since for Bundesliga 2 and Liga 3 as well.