by Andrew Puopolo
While many soccer fans on Saturday focused on the Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the San Siro in Milan, fans of English football were treated to a nice appetizer in the Championship Playoff Final, dubbed by some in the media as “the world’s most lucrative match” or the “150 million pound match.” For those uninitiated with the details of promotion to England’s Premier League, every season the top two teams in the second division, known as the Football League Championship, are automatically promoted to the Premier League. Then, the teams who finish in places third through sixth play a four-team playoff with the final match at London’s 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium to determine the third and final promoted team to the Premier League.
This year’s Championship Playoff final resulted in a 1-0 victory for 4th placed Hull City and 6th placed Sheffield Wednesday. This marked the fourth time in the last five years where the Championship Playoff winner had been relegated from the Premier League the year before as last year Norwich City were playoff winners over Middlesbrough, in 2014 Queen’s Park Rangers defeated Derby County and in 2012 West Ham United defeated Blackpool. Norwich and Queen’s Park Rangers had both been relegated the year before their playoff victory. So this got me thinking, is it possible that recently relegated teams from the Premier League perform above expectations because of their experience competing at a higher level? I calculated the expected number of rounds each team is expected to advance (1 round for reaching the final, 2 rounds for being promoted) given their league placing (3,4,5 or 6) and ran a comparison test to see if recently relegated teams who qualified for the playoffs outperformed expectations.
I broke up the data from each playoff matchup as follows:
I then compared the results of each relegated team (there were 15 over the 23 years) against their expected number of rounds advanced. I found that the recently relegated teams advanced an average of .845 rounds (as opposed to the .779 that they were expected to) but because of a very low sample size (only 15 teams) it was impossible to conclude that they performed any better than the typical team in the promotion playoffs. I have included my results below.
As it turned out the results of four of the last five years had been an anomaly. The only other time in the history of the playoffs that a relegated team won promotion straight back to the Premier League was in 1996 when lowly Leicester City (ever heard of them?) defeated fellow relegated side Crystal Palace in the playoff final. While the results of the last five years may the beginning of a trend, it is too early to conclude that it is anything other than an anomaly.