How do soccer teams get promoted

As an American, whether you be a new or long-time soccer fanatic, the hierarchy of soccer leagues in Europe and how the leagues and their teams get promoted or demoted is confusing. In the United States, sports have only one league, including soccer. So how does promoting in-association football work?

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In English soccer, there are several different leagues that have several teams each, and at the end of the season are either promoted or demoted on the hierarchy of leagues. Teams that finish with the most points or wins are moved to a higher league, whereas teams with lower points are relegated.

Continue reading to learn all about the promotion and demotion of soccer teams on the hierarchy of leagues.

The hierarchy of leagues

Soccer leagues in England and much of Europe are organized into a hierarchy of leagues. These leagues are divided into levels, with one league each making up levels 1 through 5, two leagues making up level 6, 4 leagues in level 7, 8 leagues in level 8, 16 in level 9, 17 in level 10, and finally, 44 in level 11.

The leagues at the top of this hierarchy are made up of the most successful teams, as teams in this league and the other higher-ranked leagues must work their way up through wins and gaining points.

The very top of this hierarchy pyramid is the Premier League, which is made up of teams who are considered the champions of England. All 11 levels (often referred to as divisions) are outlined in the table below:

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Divisions/League Level (and steps, if applicable) League Name(s)
Level 1FA Premier League
Level 2EFL Championship
Level 3EFL League One
Level 4EFL League Two
Level 5, Step 1National League
Level 6, Step 2
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
National League North and National League South
Level 7, Step 3
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
Northern Premier League Premier Division
Southern League Premier Division Central
Southern League Premier Division South
Isthmian League Premier Division
Level 8, Step 4
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
Northern Premier League Division One East
Northern Premier League Division One West
Northern Premier League Division One Midlands
Southern League Division One Central
Southern League Division One South
Isthmian League Division One North
Isthmian League Division One South Central
Isthmian League Division One East
Level 9, Step 5
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
16 different leagues
Level 10, Step 6
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
17 different leagues
Level 11, Step 7
*leagues are listed left to right on the pyramid
44 different leagues

With the bottom 6 levels of the pyramid being made up of leagues that are listed left to right, teams can fit into any of those leagues depending on where they place in the previous season, and they only move up a level when their team takes enough wins or scores to level up.

Given that there are so many leagues in the lower level, it’s much more difficult to move up from these levels than it is to move up a level when you’ve already been placed in a higher level on the pyramid. This is because there is so much more competition in the lower levels, although the higher levels are a bit more strict with who can join the leagues on those levels.

How teams are promoted to higher leagues

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Teams are considered for promotion to leagues that are on a higher level of the league hierarchy pyramid based on how they rank in their league at the end of the season.

If they score highest in their league or somewhere at the top, their team is promoted to a league in a higher level above them. If they’re already in the premier league (the highest league), then they stay where they are until another team outperforms them to the point the finish a season at the bottom of their league, then they are demoted to a lower league and level.

Teams that are promoted to a higher league will then play as part of that league in the next season, against other teams in that league.

Relegation and demotion of teams to lower leagues

As mentioned above, any teams that place last or finish the season at a lower rank than the rest of the teams in their league, then they are demoted to the division below. Demotion is often more commonly referred to as relegation.

A team that is relegated will then play for the league they’ve joined, in a lower level, for the next season, and they’ll continue playing for that league until they finish off a season at the bottom of their league to be demoted once more, or at the top of their league to be promoted.

If they’re already in a league at the bottom level or division of the league hierarchy pyramid, and they place last once more, then they will stay in the league they are in until they make their way to the top and get promoted to a higher division league.

Why do teams get promoted or demoted?

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The promotion and demotion process not only adds excitement for soccer/association football fans, but it allows teams in lower leagues the opportunity to qualify for the top division.

If it worked the way in which American sports do, then fans would become disinterested in teams that place low early on in the season, whereas the promotion and demotion of teams in English association football keep fans paying attention to teams that place low all season and all year long, because they still have a chance to move up a level or they’re at risk of moving down a level.

Because teams that don’t do so well are punished by being forced to move down instead of just staying in their league and division on the pyramid, they have more of an incentive to perform to the best of their ability and try to move up.

The teams that move up in leagues gain more attention, especially if the continuously move up season after season. Teams that are relegated are also at risk of facing extreme financial ramifications that they end up going bankrupt simply because they did not move up.

Teams that are relegated also struggle because several players on their team will often leave to join another team in an attempt to stay at the same level for the following season. This causes some teams to fall out, so referees and team managers will often work harder to keep their players trained and prepared for the season so that they perform well against their contenders.

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