Play-Off Promotion Winners – How Do They Cope?

Norwich City booked their place in next season’s Premier League yesterday after beating play-off rivals Middlesbrough in the “richest game in football”.

The promotion should be worth at least £120 million to the Canaries but can they survive this time around in the top flight? The history of play-off winners in their first season back in the Premier League suggests, well, maybe.

The Successes

Last year’s winners QPR were fortunate in their win over Derby County and struggled all season, despite having several high profile names in their squad. Their relegation was sealed well before the final day of the season and they now face Financial Fair Play penalties upon their return to the Football League.

However, the previous three season’s victors have since solidified their Premier League status – Swansea City, West Ham and Crystal Palace all allaying any relegation fears well before the season’s final furlong.


Indeed, if a club can survive their first season in the top tier, there’s an over 70% chance they’ll navigate that difficult second season syndrome.

The Failures

However, Blackpool are a salutary lesson of a play-off winner who failed to invest upon promotion. The Tangerines were relegated in 2010/11 and have been in freefall since, recently demoted to League One and with just a handful of players on their books.

Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Play Off - Final - Blackpool v West Ham United - Wembley Stadium

It is arguable that Blackpool weren’t prepared for Premier League football, maintaining its Championship wage structure and having to install a temporary stand. At least Norwich City have a squad, infrastructure and recent experience of the top league to thrive this time around.

The Stats

Alex Neil’s side can console themselves that almost 60% of promoted clubs stay up and remain in the top flight for an average of 3.6 seasons. However, this figure drops to around 45% for play-off champions, with 15 of the last 28 winners relegated the following season.

In the last ten seasons, the likes of Burnley, Derby County, Watford and Crystal Palace have failed to capitalise on play-off success and found the gulf in class between the top two divisions a step too far.


However, apart from Derby the others have eventually returned but it’s taken them an average of over 7 seasons to gain promotion again.

The Great Escape

Indeed, Norwich’s immediate return to Premier League football is to be lauded as around three-quarters of relegated sides fail to bounce back at the first attempt.

The Championship is a notoriously difficult league to escape and once you’re back in the second tier for two seasons you’re just as likely to drop another division as you are to climb back.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Play Off - Final - Middlesbrough v Norwich City - Wembley Stadium

It seems likely that at least one of Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford will consolidate Premier League status – only once since the Premier League’s inception have all three promoted sides dropped down again the next season.

Norwich City fans will be hoping its them and that they follow the blueprint of predecessors likes of Swansea City rather than the ill-fated Blackpool.