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The glory of winning the Championship – the second-tier in English football – speaks for itself with a title and automatic entry to the Premier League for the following season.
Second place in the highest Football League division carries the same reward, but is there anything more rewarding, dramatic, and coveted than the third promotion spot that is gained by winning the play-offs at the iconic Wembley Stadium?
The EFL play-offs are a very English phenomenon given how the process differs from playoffs in other countries due to the format for deciding on promotion from League 2, League 1 and the Championship.
The jump out of the EFL into the Premier League carries the most prestige and glamour but the overall system is very much a collective thing with the EFL, given the meritocracy which means a club can in theory rise from the fourth tier to the pinnacle of English football in four years.
This finale to the EFL season certainly works. It's popular and it allows several teams to reach for glory beyond winning the league. The play-offs are one of the undisputed unique selling points of the EFL.
How does promotion and relegation work in the EFL?
The play-offs have an impact on all three EFL leagues as well as the Premier League above it, and the National League below it in the football pyramid.
Every year, three teams go up from the Championship to the Premier League. As mentioned above, the champions and runners-up are promoted automatically, with the last promotion spot decided by two-legged semi-finals involving those who finished between third and sixth place during the regular season, followed by the winner-takes-all final at Wembley.
Three are relegated from the Premier League to replace them.
The same process happens at the bottom of the Championship with the sides placed 22-24 relegated to League One, with a similar up and down system deployed in that division as well as League Two.
When do the EFL play-offs 2023/24 take place?
The final games of the Championship and League 1 season are scheduled for Saturday 4 May, with all games taking place simultaneously. League 2 will conclude earlier on 27 April.
Then the play-offs get underway with the same four-team process as the final battles of the season are fought. The third-placed team in the league table takes on the sixth-placed team, while fourth plays fifth.
The showpiece Wembley one-off deciders will then take place as follows:
League One Play-Off Final – Saturday 18 May 2024
League Two Play-Off Final – Sunday 19 May 2024
Championship Play-Off Final – Sunday 26 May 2024
Who were the last EFL play-off winners?
In 2022/23, the Championship play-off final was won by Luton Town after a hard-fought contest. It meant the Hatters secured top-flight football for the first time since 1991/92, the year before the formation of the Premier League.
They saw off Coventry City on penalties, following a 1-1 draw in normal time.
The two sides had disposed of Sunderland and Middlesbrough, respectively, to earn their shot at glory.
The League One play-off final was won by Sheffield Wednesday whilst Carlisle United were victorious in the League Two decider.
Overall, the play-offs have proven to be an enduring success for the EFL and the clubs involved. A late run of form in the regular season can be very profitable in more ways than one, with some outsiders known to finish strong all the way to Wembley.
It guarantees more finance for those involved with the lure of further gains as well as a definite success for Sky and the TV audience. The play-offs are here to stay, the only question that matters is who will be involved at the business end of the 2023/24 season?
How much is winning the EFL Championship play-off worth?
‘The richest game in football' is a tag that is often attached to the Championship play-off final, given the significance of the finances involved with promotion to the Premier League.
In previous years, clubs in the second tier were used to operating on more modest budgets but recently the bigger clubs have flexed their muscle in terms of transfer fees and wages offered to players. Much of that comes via participating in the top league and make no mistake, that is where they want to be.
It has been said by Deloitte that winning the play-off prize at Wembley amounts to around £130 million in revenue for the winning club, which highlights the scale of figures as well as the extent of the challenge with many of the big boys who lie in wait.