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Comparing Soccer Pyramids Around the World

Pyramids around the World

The promotion and relegation system, usually viewed as a pyramid,  has been a fundamental aspect of soccer since its inception. All the open systems are based on merit and has been successful in determining which teams compete at a higher level, and which teams move down to a lower level to regroup. 

Below are a few examples of countries across the country with a promotion-relegation pyramid system in place.  

NOTE:  these tiers are a general representative as of 2023, and even though very stable, each country defines its pyramid and the tiers, format, and numbers of teams could change each year. 

England (11+ Tiers)

The English football league system consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional or semi-professional football.

Each of tiers below have a system for teams to move up (promotion) or move down  (relegation) solely on how they perform their tier.  Below is a summary of the levels.

Professional League

TIER 1: Premier League

The top tier of English soccer, consisting of 20 teams. It is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country.  The Premier League is widely regarded as the highest level of professional football in England. It attracts significant global attention, boasts large television deals, and features many of the world’s top players.

TIER 2: EFL Championship

The second tier, also known as the Championship, features 24 teams and is one of the most difficult competitive leagues to play in the world. Many clubs in the Championship have a rich history and aspire to gain promotion to the Premier League.

TIER 3: EFL League One

The third tier, comprising 24 teams. League One represents a mix of former Premier League and Championship clubs, as well as ambitious lower-league sides.

TIER 4: EFL League Two

The fourth tier, consisting of 24 teams. League Two often includes smaller clubs, but also those with passionate fan bases and aspirations for promotion.

Non-League

TIER 5: National League

The National League is the top level of non-league football and consists of 24 teams. Clubs in this tier can earn promotion to the EFL through playoffs or by finishing as the champions.

TIER 6: National League North & South

These  two regional leagues make up  the sixth tier of English football. They consist of 24 teams each and provide a pathway for promotion to the National League.

The teams are split into the North and South dependent on their geographical location. Both competitions run in parallel to one another with 22 teams each.

TIER 7: Northern & Southern Premier Division, Southern Premier Central and Isthmian League

Below the National League North and South, there are numerous regional leagues such as the Northern Premier League, Southern League, Isthmian League, and others. These leagues are further divided into different divisions based on geographical areas.

TIER 8:  Northern Leagues and 4 Southern Leagues County leagues

There are eight leagues in total here, each of them divided by region. The Northern Premier League Division 1 has East, Midlands, West & Central. These four leagues have their respective champions promoted to either the Northern Premier League Premier Division or the Southern League Central Division, depending on their region.

TIER 9 & 10:  County leagues and local leagues

The Ninth and Tenth Division is officially the last two leagues of the official football league system. These two divisions have semi-professional teams and even amateur teams.

In these levels, the leagues are divided geographically with various systems. Clubs that are relegated from the Eighth Division will end up in the Ninth Division, and it continues to the Tenth Division of the pyramid.

These leagues often represent smaller communities and amateur or semi-professional teams.

Here is an interesting story of Bury FC, currently in the 9th tier.

Japan (5 Tiers)

Before 1993, Japan did not have a league with promotion and relegation came with the establishment of the J1 League in 1993.  It was  single entity system similar to the NFL,

The introduction of promotion and relegation came with the establishment of the J1 League in 1993. The J1 League was designed to bring a more competitive and exciting structure to Japanese football, including the ability for clubs to move between divisions based on their performance.

Since then, the promotion and relegation system has become an integral part of the Japanese football league system, allowing clubs to progress from lower divisions to the top tier and vice versa.The Japanese football league system consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country.

Professional League

TIER 1:  J1 League

The J1 League is the top tier of professional football in Japan. It consists of 18 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The J1 League clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in continental competitions.

TIER 1: J2 League

The J2 League is the second tier of professional football in Japan. It consists of 22 teams and serves as a stepping stone for clubs aspiring to promote to the J1 League. The top two teams in J2 League earn direct promotion to the J1 League, while the teams finishing from third to sixth place compete in promotion playoffs.

TIER 3: J3 League

The J3 League is the third tier of professional football in Japan. It consists of 20 teams and provides an additional level for club development and progression. The top team in J3 League has the opportunity to earn direct promotion to the J2 League, while the teams finishing from second to fourth place compete in promotion playoffs.

Non-League 

TIER 4: Japan Football League (JFL)

The Japan Football League is a semi-professional league and the fourth tier of football in Japan. It consists of amateur and semi-professional clubs from various regions in the country. Promotion from the JFL to the J3 League is possible based on meeting specific criteria set by the Japan Football Association (JFA).

TIER 5: Regional Leagues

Below the JFL, there are various regional leagues that make up the fifth tier of Japanese football. These leagues are divided by geographical areas and are further divided into multiple divisions within each region. The number of tiers within the regional leagues can vary depending on the specific region.

Germany (5+ Tiers)

The German football league system consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the system is structured as follows:

It’s important to note that the German football league system can be subject to changes and reorganization over time as clubs are promoted or relegated. The system is regulated by the German Football Association (DFB) and aims to provide a pathway for club development and upward mobility within the professional and amateur ranks of German football.

Professional League

TIER 1: Bundesliga

The Bundesliga is the top tier of professional football in Germany. It consists of 18 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The Bundesliga clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in European competitions.

TIER 2: 2 Bundesliga

The 2. Bundesliga is the second tier of professional football in Germany. It consists of 18 teams and serves as a stepping stone for clubs aspiring to promote to the Bundesliga. The top two teams in the 2. Bundesliga earn direct promotion to the Bundesliga, while the team finishing in third place competes in a promotion playoff against the team finishing in 16th place in the Bundesliga.

TIER 3: 3. Liga

3. Liga is the third tier of professional football in Germany. It consists of 20 teams and provides an additional level for club development and progression. The top team in the 3. Liga earns direct promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, while the teams finishing from second to fourth place compete in a promotion playoff.

TIER 4: Regionalliga

The Regionalliga is a level split into five regional leagues, namely Regionalliga Nord, Regionalliga Nordost, Regionalliga West, Regionalliga Südwest, and Regionalliga Bayern. Each Regionalliga represents the fourth tier of German football and consists of multiple divisions. The winners of each Regionalliga have the opportunity to compete in promotion playoffs for a chance to move up to the 3. Liga.

Non-League 

TIER 5:  Oberliga and Lower Leagues 

Below the Regionalliga, there are various Oberliga leagues and lower leagues that make up the fifth tier and lower tiers of German football. These leagues are divided into different regional divisions based on geography and feature amateur and semi-professional clubs.

Argentina (5+Tiers)

The Argentine football league system consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country. 

Professional League

TIER 1: Primera División

The Primera División, also known as the Superliga Argentina or Liga Profesional de Fútbol, is the top tier of professional football in Argentina. It consists of 28 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The Primera División clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in international club competitions.

TIER 2: Primera Nacional

The Primera Nacional, formerly known as the Nacional B, is the second tier of professional football in Argentina. It consists of 37 teams and serves as a pathway for clubs aspiring to promote to the Primera División. The top two teams in the Primera Nacional earn direct promotion to the Primera División, while the teams finishing from third to sixth place compete in a promotion playoff.

TIER 3: Primera B Metropolitana

The Primera B Metropolitana is the third tier of football in Argentina and is part of the metropolitan league system. It consists of 20 teams, mostly from the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, and provides an additional level for club development and progression. The top team in the Primera B Metropolitana earns direct promotion to the Primera Nacional.

TIER 4: Primera C Metropolitana

The Primera C Metropolitana is the fourth tier of football in Argentina’s metropolitan league system. It consists of 20 teams and is positioned below the Primera B Metropolitana. The top team in the Primera C Metropolitana earns direct promotion to the Primera B Metropolitana.

TIER 5: Primera D Metropolitana

The Primera D Metropolitana is the fifth tier of football in Argentina’s metropolitan league system. It consists of 18 teams and operates as the lowest level of the metropolitan leagues. The top team in the Primera D Metropolitana earns direct promotion to the Primera C Metropolitana.

Non-League 

TIER 6+:

Below these tiers, there are additional regional leagues and amateur divisions that form the lower levels of Argentine football. These leagues vary in structure and number of divisions, providing opportunities for clubs to compete and progress within their respective regions.

Brazil (4+ Tiers)

The Brazilian football league system is a complicated series of interconnected leagues for football clubs in Brazil. It consists of two independent pyramids: the national pyramid and the states pyramid.

Although independent leagues, clubs usually compete in a state pyramid and a national pyramid with some overlap for deciding promotion and relegation. While the national competitions are organized by CBF, the state championships are organized by the respective football federations of each state.

The best placed teams in the states championships as well as the best clubs ranked in by the CBF compete in the Copa do Brasil.  

Professional League

NATIONAL LEAGUE PYRAMID
 

TIER 1: Campeonato Brasileiro Série A

The Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, commonly known as Brasileirão, is the top tier of professional football in Brazil. It features 20 teams from across the country. The Brasileirão clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to qualify for international club competitions.

TIER 2: Campeonato Brasileiro Série B

The Campeonato Brasileiro Série B is the second tier of professional football in Brazil. It also consists of 20 teams and serves as a pathway for clubs aspiring to promote to the top-tier Brasileirão. The top four teams in Série A earn promotion to Série B, while the bottom four are relegated to Série C.

TIER 3: Campeonato Brasileiro Série C

The Campeonato Brasileiro Série C is the third tier of football in Brazil. It is features a group stage followed by a knockout stage to determine promotion, relegation, and ultimately, a champion. The top four teams in Série B earn promotion to Série B, while the bottom four are relegated to Série D.

TIER 4: Campeonato Brasileiro Série D

The Campeonato Brasileiro Série D is the fourth tier of football in Brazil. 

The qualification for the Série D in Brazilian football involves a
combination of performance-based entry for the best-placed state
championship clubs (see below), promotion from lower levels, and the potential for clubs to advance through the national pyramid structure. 

Série D teams do not directly face relegation to a lower division within the national league system. However, it is possible that teams in Série D can still face relegation within their respective state leagues or regional competitions. 

Non-League

State Pyramids Championships

Below these top four tiers, there are also state-level championships, also known as Campeonatos Estaduais.

These championships consist of individual pyramids for each
Brazilian state, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and
others. Each state organizes its own football competitions, including
state championships and has its own format and divisions with promotion and relegation. The top teams in the state league tables can qualify for the for the next year’s Campeonato Brasileiro Série D and the Copa do Brasil.

Regional Lower-level leagues and amateur divisions

Beyond this, there are numerous lower-level leagues and amateur divisions that form the grassroots and developmental levels of Brazilian football. These leagues vary in size and are organized at the local and regional levels, providing opportunities for clubs to compete and progress within their respective areas.

Trinidad & Tobago (3 Tiers)

The football league system in Trinidad and Tobago consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country. 

Professional League

TIER 1: TT Pro League:

The TT Pro League is the top tier of professional football in Trinidad and Tobago. It consists of a varying number of teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The Pro League clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in international club competitions.

TIER 2: Trinidad and Tobago Championship

The Trinidad and Tobago Championship is the second tier of football in the country. It consists of a varying number of teams and serves as a pathway for clubs aspiring to promote to the TT Pro League. The top team in the Championship may earn promotion to the Pro League based on meeting specific criteria set by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA).

Non-League

TIER 3:  Regional and Community Leagues

Below the TT Pro League and the Championship, there are various regional and community leagues that make up the lower tiers of Trinidad and Tobago football. These leagues are organized at the local level and involve teams from specific regions or communities. They provide opportunities for amateur and semi-professional clubs to compete and showcase their talents.

Turkey

The football league system in Turkey consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the system is structured as follows:

Professional League

TIER 1: Süper Lig

The Süper Lig is the top tier of professional football in Turkey. It consists of 19 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The Süper Lig clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in European club competitions.

TIER2: TFF 1. Lig

The TFF 1. Lig, also known as the First League, is the second tier of professional football in Turkey. It consists of 19 teams and serves as a stepping stone for clubs aspiring to promote to the Süper Lig. The top two teams in the TFF 1. Lig earn direct promotion to the Süper Lig, while the teams finishing from third to sixth place compete in a promotion playoff.

TIER 3: TFF 2. Lig

The TFF 2. Lig, also known as the Second League, is the third tier of football in Turkey. It is divided into two groups, the White Group and the Red Group, each consisting of 18 teams. The top two teams from each group earn direct promotion to the TFF 1. Lig, while the teams finishing from third to sixth place in each group compete in promotion playoffs.

TIER 4: TFF 3. Lig

The TFF 3. Lig, also known as the Third League, is the fourth tier of football in Turkey. It is divided into multiple groups based on geographical regions, with each group consisting of 18 teams. The winners of each group earn direct promotion to the TFF 2. Lig.

Non-League

TIER 5+

Below these tiers, there are additional regional amateur leagues that form the lower levels of Turkish football. These leagues are organized at the local level and involve teams from specific regions or provinces. The winners of these regional leagues may have the opportunity to compete in promotion playoffs for a chance to move up to higher divisions.

Saudi Arabia

The football league system in Saudi Arabia consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the system is structured as follows:

Professional League

TIER 1: Professional League (SPL)

The Saudi Professional League, also known as the Dawri Al-Muhtarifin Al-Saudi, is the top tier of professional football in Saudi Arabia. It consists of 16 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The SPL clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in continental club competitions.

TIER2:  First Division League

The Saudi First Division League, also known as the Division 1 or First Division, is the second tier of professional football in Saudi Arabia. It consists of multiple teams, and the exact number of teams may vary from season to season. The top two teams in the First Division League earn direct promotion to the SPL for the following season.

TIER 3:   Second Division League

The Saudi Second Division League, also known as the Division 2 or Second Division, is the third tier of football in Saudi Arabia. It is is split into 2 regions, and the number of teams and the structure of the league may vary across different regions or zones. The winners of the Second Division League in each region may have the opportunity to compete in promotion playoffs for a chance to move up to the First Division League.

TIER 4:   Third Division League

This tier starting in 2023 and 2024 and  is split into 4 regions  and is thr 4th tier . The number of teams and the structure of the league may vary across different regions or zones. The winners of the Second Division League in each region may have the opportunity to compete in promotion playoffs for a chance to move up to the First Division League.

Non-League

TIER 4: Amateur and Regional Leagues

Below the professional leagues, there are various amateur and regional leagues that form the lower tiers of Saudi Arabian football. These leagues are organized at the local level and involve teams from specific regions or provinces. They provide opportunities for amateur and semi-professional clubs to compete and showcase their talents.

Nigeria

The football league system in Nigeria consists of several tiers, with each tier representing a different level of professional and amateur football in the country.

Professional League

TIER 1: Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL)

The Nigerian Professional Football League is the top tier of professional football in Nigeria. It consists of 20 teams and is the most prestigious and widely followed league in the country. The NPFL clubs compete for the league title and have the opportunity to participate in continental club competitions.

TIER2;  Nigeria National League (NNL)

The Nigeria National League is the second tier of professional football in Nigeria. It is divided into two conferences, the Northern Conference and the Southern Conference, each consisting of a varying number of teams. The top two teams from each conference at the end of the season earn promotion to the NPFL for the following season.

TIER 3: Nigeria Nationwide League (NLO)

The Nigeria Nationwide League is the third tier of football in Nigeria. It is organized at the zonal level, with four zones (North-West, North-East, South-West, and South-South). Each zone is further divided into divisions. The winners of each division have the opportunity to progress to the promotion playoffs, where successful teams may earn promotion to the Nigeria National League.

Non-League

TIER 4: State Leagues and Amateur Leagues

Below the Nationwide League, there are various state leagues and amateur leagues that form the lower tiers of Nigerian football. These leagues are organized at the local level and involve teams from specific states or communities. They provide opportunities for amateur and semi-professional clubs to compete and showcase their talents.

 

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