As the league season draws to a close, I was pondering the fate of the three teams who were promoted to the Premier League last season. Strangely, it appears that both Norwich City, promoted in 2nd place, and Swansea City, promoted via the play-offs seem to have secured their place in the top league for another season, whereas QPR, winners of last season’s Championship by 4 points, are currently in the midst of a relegation dog-fight.

I wondered whether there were any patterns with promoted sides, and any relationships between their finishing positions in the previous season compared with the length of time they were able to maintain their place at the level above. It stands to reason that you would expect a better survival rate for the teams who finished 1st in their leagues, because, presumably, they are a better side than the two teams who came up with them. But do the numbers reflect this, and is QPR’s current predicament just a blip?

The second thing that interested me was whether or not the survival rates seen by sides being promoted to the top level of English football was the same as teams getting promoted at lower levels of the game. Much is written about the jump in quality between the Championship and the Premiership and certainly in the Premiership era, promoted teams have found it incredibly difficult to establish themselves in the top division. But can the same be said of the lower leagues, or are there more instances at the lower levels of league football of sides maintaining their statuses in the division above?

I thought I would turn the whole exercise into an attractive, interactive piece of content so that you can all enjoy the fruits of my labour and you can hover over the numbers in the circles to reveal who the teams were who survived a particular number of seasons. Unfortunately for me, the answers to both these questions were pretty much as expected. You never quite know what you are going to find when you start crunching the numbers, but in this case the data revealed the expected outcome.

Newsflash: In other news, I am delighted to reveal that bears do indeed shit in the woods, that Ashley Young sometimes finds it difficult to run in a straight line without losing his balance and that Glen Johnson has been stripped of his B&Q loyalty card.

In the twenty four years of (completed) league campaigns using the play-off system, there have been a grand total of 480 teams promoted. 360 (75%) of these sides have managed to stay in the league above for at least one season, however this figure drops to 56.9% when you look solely at the Premier League, and as low as 37.5% (15 of the 24 teams) when you look at the side who was promoted to the top division via the play-offs. Maintaining your place in the top league of the English game is certainly tough, and it’s even tougher when you come up via the play-off final.

* More observant viewers will notice that in the section illustrating teams being promoted from level 4 to level 3 contains a total of 48 teams being promoted in 2nd, 3rd & 4th places, instead of a figure of 24 which is the case for every other division. This is because, traditionally 4 teams are promoted from the bottom division up to the level above (5 teams went up in 1990/91 but only 3 teams in 1994/95). In order to maintain a sense of scale, I have not represented these numbers faithfully in the graphic, instead I have chosen to scale the circles at half the size in order to allow fair visual comparison.
I think that was the correct way to illustrate it, but I’m not a mathmetician. I’m just a fat lad with a mac.

  1. Great stuff! Amazing that Fulham, Blackburn, and Bolton came up together and have stuck around so long (thus far). I already shared my rough alternate visualization of the data for the EPL on twitter, but thought it might be good in your comments section as well:
    Green=champs, yellow=2nd, red=play-offs, and black are the sides that relegated. I adjusted the relegations based on opportunity, since there was only one chance for a club to stay up 24 years in each position, two for 23 years, etc. Because it was already very busy, I left out the data points with nothing but relegation.

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