Promotion, Relegation & League Structure

Promotion, Relegation & League Structure

Northern NSW Football is delighted to announce the return of promotion and relegation to its senior men’s premier competitions from the 2024 season as well as the connection between NNSWF’s premier competitions and the Zone Football League for the first time.

The new structure for NNSWF’s senior men’s football has been designed to:

  • enhance player development
  • increase overall club development
  • improve fan engagement
  • provide more competitive matches

NNSWF will continue to fully administer the NPL Men’s NNSW and HIT 106.9 Northern League competitions while the Interdistrict member zones, Newcastle Football, Macquarie Football and Hunter Valley Football, will remain responsible for the Zone Football League.

But with the connection of the Zone Football League to NNSWF’s premier competitions there will be a fully functioning football pyramid in northern NSW for the first time, allowing aspirational clubs to move up to higher levels based on sporting performance.

How it will work:

The 12 clubs competing in the 2023 NPL Men’s NNSW will remain in the competition for 2024, while HIT 106.9 Northern League One will remain a nine-team competition at this stage.

The Zone Premier League, Zone League One and Zone League Two will remain 12, 10 and 10-team competitions respectively, but will be renamed Zone League One, Zone League Two and Zone League Three.

At the end of the 2024 season, the team that comes 12th in NPL Men’s NNSW will be relegated to HIT 106.9 Northern League One, while the team that finishes first in HIT 106.9 Northern League One will be promoted to NPL Men’s NNSW.

Promotion Play-off

The team that finishes 11th in NPL Men’s NNSW will join the teams that finish second, third and fourth in HIT106.9 Northern League One in a promotion/relegation play-off series to determine the 12th team in NPL Men’s NNSW in 2025.

This will involve the 11th team from NPL Men’s playing the fourth team from HIT 106.9 Northern League One, and the second and third teams from HIT 106.9 Northern League One, playing each other in two-legged home and away matches. The two winners will then meet in one match to decide who will play in the NPL Men’s NNSW competition.

NNSWF League Structure 2024


Connecting the pyramid

The team that finishes ninth in HIT 106.9 Northern League One will not be relegated to Zone League One at the end of 2024 due to the current bye. Relegation from HIT 106.9 Northern League One will commence from the 2025 season. But the team that finishes first in Zone League One in 2024 will be promoted to HIT 106.9 Northern League One to make a 10-team league in 2025.

There will remain five-team finals series’ in the Zone Football League, with a straight one club up/one club down promotion-relegation model to come into effect between Northern League One, Zone League One, Zone League Two and Zone League Three.

Frequently Asked Questions

Promotion & Relegation Background


Promotion and relegation, coupled with league structure, has been a constant discussion within the region for a number of years.

There has been no formal promotion and relegation system within NNSWF Premier Competitions in the last nine seasons, though New Lambton FC and Cooks Hill United have been promoted based on an application process which has been approved by the NNSWF Board of Directors.

At the direction of the NNSWF Board of Directors, and led by the NNSWF Deputy Chair Mark Trenter, management convened a working group to discuss the issue, consult with relevant stakeholders and provide a recommended way forward that would see a promotion and relegation structure re-introduced into NNSWF’s Men’s Premier Competitions.

The working group consisted of:

NNSWF Vice Chair – Mark Trenter
NNSWF General Manager Football Operations – Liam Bentley
NNSWF Technical Director – Ryan Doidge
Newcastle Football CEO – Russell Henry
NPL Standing Committee Chair – Scott Douglas
NL1 Standing Committee Chair – Rob Panther
Zone League Club Administrator – Wayne Richards (Mayfield United)
External Expert – Daniel McBreen

The Advisory Group met to discuss best practice models, the benefits and challenges of a promotion and relegation system within our market and the positive and negative effects on the games stakeholders.

The Premier Club representatives were also tasked with representing their peers and being the conduit between the Advisory Group and the football family.

The Promotion & Relegation Advisory Groups Terms of Reference were to consider:

  • The most appropriate and effective structure of NNSWF’s Senior Men’s Premier Competitions
  • Promotion/Relegation formats that were appropriate for NNSWF’s Senior Men’s Premier Competitions
  • How a Promotion/Relegation format could be extended to include the Zone Football League
  • How aspirational regional clubs could integrate with the NNSWF’s Senior Men’s Premier Competition structure
  • The appropriateness of the current Premier Competition Participation Criteria
  • The practical implications of promotion and relegation on clubs, volunteers and member zones
  • Football Australia’s expectations, requirements and preferences as they relate to the National Premier Leagues
  • The roadmap for implementation

The Promotion & Relegation Advisory Group met formally three times and supplemented this with multiple meetings and discussions with club volunteers and coaches in addition to ongoing correspondence between group members via email and telephone.

It was a widely held view within the sport across the globe at all levels that a league system that included a version of promotion and relegation based on sporting merit:

  • Increases the level of excitement for all stakeholders, especially fans
  • Provides a more competitive environment for players leading to better outcomes for player development
  • Rewards clubs for on-field success across all levels of the competition structure
  • Incentivises clubs to improve their level of competitiveness continually
  • Provides an opportunity for aspirational clubs to see a pathway for progression through to the highest level of competition
What is this new criteria and what impact will it have on Zone Football League clubs?

The draft criteria is intended to put the current requirements on clubs into a clear framework but also set out what steps need to be taken for any club who has ambition to step up from either Zone League One to Northern League One or from Northern League One to NPL Men’s.

National criteria has existed across Australia at NPL level and some leagues below this level nationally since the inception of NPL. But all Member Federations are working with Football Australia on the introduction of new Club Licencing Criteria for the NPL level for 2024. This criteria will focus on five key areas:

  • Sporting – such as required teams, player registration
  • Infrastructure – venue requirements
  • Personnel – club structure, minimum coaching standards
  • Legal – ensuring compliance with NSW legal requirements
  • Financial – ensuring compliance with required financial regulations

Specific to teams competing in Zone League One, Two and Three – while there will be a formal criteria introduced, the vast majority of this criteria is already required of clubs either through the club’s constitution or legal requirements such as holding an AGM, submitting the relevant financial documents, having a club president and a secretary. Importantly, there will be no additional requirements placed on Zone Football League teams to have advanced accredited coaches or Premier Youth League programs.

Will this cost our club more money?

While player registration fees are always subject to the annual review and approval by the NNSWF and Member Zone Boards, there is no administrative reason, related to promotion and relegation, to lift the competition or player fees. As the management of each league structure will remain with their current body, there is no material cost increase in implementing promotion and relegation.

Do Zone Football League clubs have to field youth teams now?

No. There is no requirement to field specific youth teams for team competing in Zone League One, Two or Three. The only level at which mandatory youth teams are required to compete is for any team competing in NPL Men’s. Teams in this competition will be required to field teams in the Premier Youth League.

Where will my club start the 2024 season?

The introduction of promotion and relegation will have no impact on where you team will begin the 2024 season. There is no promotion and relegation between NPL Men’s and Northern League One and the standard promotion and relegation within Zone Football League will continue at the discretion of the Joint Interdistrict Zones into season 2024.

When does this all start?

This will begin in the 2024 season. Meaning the first promotions and relegations will occur between the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

Do we still have finals in Zone Football League?

Yes. Zone League One, Two and Three will continue with their five team finals structure for the foreseeable future.

Does the play-off in Northern League One replace finals? What about reserve grade?

Yes. The promotion playoff in Northern League One will now take place instead of the traditional finals series. This will mean that more clubs will be in the running for the ultimate prize of promotion for longer in the season. 

A finals series will still be run alongside the play-offs for Northern League One reserve grade.

What happens to our third grade team if we get promoted to Northern League One?

Currently Northern League One has two required teams – first grade and reserve grade. Should Zone League requirements continue to have three required teams, the Joint Interdistrict Zones will work with any promoted club to find an appropriate position within the all age competitions for any displaced third team.

Are the league sizes locked in?

The current league sizes have been based solely on the existing structure. There may be flexibility in the addition of teams or should any teams withdraw from the competition. The league sizes will remain at the discretion of Northern NSW Football for NPL Men’s and Northern League One and at the discretion of the Joint Interdistrict Zones for Zone Football League.

What happens if a team doesn’t have youth teams and wins Northern League One?

While a number of the key criteria have been relaxed to make promotion to NPL much more achievable such as the venue requirements, the consultation process with NPL Men’s and Northern League One clubs supported the Football Australia direction that clubs must have youth teams to compete in NPL. Specifically in our region, they are to be competing in the Premier Youth League.

Should a team without Premier Youth League teams finish as premiers of Northern League One, they will not be promoted to NPL Men’s. In this instance, the team finishing in 11th place (qualifying for the play-offs) will remain in NPL Men’s and the team finishing 12th will take their spot in the relegation playoffs rather than be automatically relegated.

Should a team without Premier Youth League teams finish in one of the play-off spots, they will not contend the play-offs and the remaining play-off teams will move up their position within the play-off. For example if the team finishing third does not have the required teams, the team finishing fourth will take the position of the third place team and face second place in the semi-final. The team finishing 11th in NPL will move straight to the play-off final. For the avoidance of doubt, no extra teams will be added to the play-off series if one of the qualified teams does not meet the required teams.

Is promotion or relegation optional?

No. By competing in NPL Men’s, Northern League One and Zone Football League, all clubs will be bound by the appropriate regulations which will outline the promotion and relegation requirements of each league.

What if I have a team already in the league above?

For clubs competing in Zone Football League, if you have a team from your club already in the league above your current league, you will not be able to be promoted into that league should you finish as premiers. In the first instance this position will be offered to who finished the regular season in second position. If that team is unable to be promoted, then the relegated team will gain a reprieve and maintain their current league status.

With relation to NPL Men’s and Northern League One, no club will be permitted to have a team in Northern League One if they already have a team competing in NPL Men’s. As there is a play-off series which links both competitions on the pitch, this will ensure there are no competition integrity issues within the promotion and relegation structure of these leagues.

Are we allowed to have a team in the league above or below our other team?

With the exception of the above position regarding NPL Men’s and Northern League One, clubs will be permitted to have teams above or below them in the league structure, just not in the same division.

Who will be running Zone Football League?

While Northern NSW Football and the Joint Interdistrict Zones will be working collaboratively on the new league structure, the management and authority of Zone League One, Two and Three remains with the Joint Interdistrict Zones – Newcastle Football, Hunter Valley Football and Macquarie Football. The management and authority of NPL Men’s and Northern League One remains with Northern NSW Football.

What support will NNSWF provide to clubs promoted to Northern League One?

Northern NSW Football will identify clubs that are in contention for promotion prior to the halfway point of the season. NNSWF will then start a process to identify what areas the club may need support in to meet the HIT 106.9 Northern League One criteria. This will involve meeting with clubs and providing an assessment of where clubs sit and identify actions they can implement to meet the criteria.

Where do regional teams fit into this structure?

Northern NSW Football and the Joint Interdistrict Zones will assess the interest of regionally based clubs who would like to be a part of this structure, with potential entry in season 2025.

The leagues sizes are based on the current teams but are flexible enough to include a small number of regional teams should this be required in the future.

Are Zone Football League clubs going to have to upgrade their facilities?

While Northern NSW Football hopes that we can continue to build on club infrastructure, this process and criteria will not require any significant upgrades for clubs competing in Zone League One, Two or Three.

Where can I find the criteria for my league?

The criteria is still in draft form until the NPL Men’s criteria is finalised. But this draft criteria can be found HERE.