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How Do Promoted Teams Fare In The English Premier League?



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How well do promoted teams fare in the English Premier League? What can fans of Swansea, QPR and Norwich City expect from the upcoming season? The graphic below plots the survival rates of teams promoted to the Premiership across the past decade and tells a stark tale.

While Blackburn, Bolton and Fulham have survived – some would even say thrived – at the top level, the tales of greatest success are to be found in the early part of the past decade when they were joined by Manchester City, Portsmouth, West Ham and Wigan in establishing themselves as Premier League entities.  Since that remarkable year in 2001-02 where all three promoted sides survived, the English Premier League has become a much harder landscape for promoted teams to cultivate.

Click graphic to enlarge

Blue denotes survival, red a year spent in another division and green a return to the Premiership after relegation.

Of 30 teams promoted, thirteen have gone straight back down.  Over the past decade, the Premier League retains teams who struggle – and often spend – mightily to get to the top flight at a rate of exactly one of three (33.3%) for five years or longer.

Elimated after 1 Year 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Teams 13 6** 1* 2* 1* 1 2* 0 0 1* 3***

* Denotes number of teams still in Premier League.

A “Survival Analysis” on such a small sample size would be ineffective given the group loses nearly 50% of it’s members after a first year relegation. But were we to examine how many clubs had a five-year survival rate, exactly one promoted club in three stays in the division for five years or more. That means of the 21 teams who could have been in the Premier League for five years by this season (ie. all those teams promoted 2007 or before), seven have survived that length of time – 33.3%

However, should we withdraw those clubs that arrived B.A. (before Abramovich, who for better or worse changed English football with his petro-roubles) – that number drops slightly to 26.67%. However, this also includes the recently relegated clubs West Ham United and Portsmouth, who nearly bankrupted themselves with exorbitant wages, the global financial crisis, multiple court appearances and other sundry expenses.

This proves once again that Stoke manager Tony Pulis is correct in his thinking: that three seasons of consolidation should be enough to establish oneself. With prudent investment – leading to squad regrowth, or refreshment – Premier League status can be retained. It’s all so simple, isn’t it?

Nope. A team must make the choice to thrive and perhaps risk financial crisis (cf. Portsmouth, who traded an FA Cup for a debt so large it makes Greece smirk) or simply enjoy a potentially-fleeting EPL existence. Wigan Athletic, who managed to finish as high as eleventh on the table in 2008-09, seem to be flirting with this policy as Dave Whelan keeps his hands in his pockets more often than in years past.

The two promotion “successes” of more recent years – Sunderland and Stoke City – followed the same model; backed by owners Ellis Short and Peter Coates’ combination of fiscal prudency and healthy pocketbooks. Along with Wolves, whose finances are also healthy, they form a trio likely to maintain the one-in-three average of the Premiership retaining promoted sides.

In a situation typical of the business world, bigger fish will thrive at the expense of the smaller ones.

Matthew Wood regularly contributes to Soccerlens.  You can find more of his analysis and commentary at Balanced Sports or follow him on Twitter @balanced_sports.