The decision to establish the 2. Bundesliga as a fully professional league below the Bundesliga was made at the annual convention of the German Football Association, the DFB, in Frankfurt on 30 June 1973. The league replaced the five Regionalligas that were at this level from 1963 to 1974. Each Regionalliga had a set quota of clubs that could qualify for the new league with the Regionalliga Süd receiving thirteen spots, the Regionalliga West twelve, the Regionalliga Nord and Regionalliga Südwest seven and the Regionalliga Berlin one. The qualified teams were established through a ranking that took the last five seasons of the Regionalliga into account.
The new 2. Bundesliga was split into a northern and a southern division with 20 clubs each. Each division had its champion directly promoted to the Bundesliga while the two runners-up would contest a two-leg play-off to determine the third promoted team. The bottom four clubs in each league were relegated, however, as the number of clubs relegated from the Bundesliga to each division could vary, so could the number of clubs in the league and therefore the number of teams relegated.
The first-ever game of the league was played on Friday, 2 August 1974 between 1. FC Saarbrücken and SV Darmstadt 98 and ended in a 1–0 win for Saarbrücken, with Nikolaus Semlitsch scoring the first-ever goal of the new league. The inaugural champions of the league were Hannover 96 in the north and Karlsruher SC in the south, both former Bundesliga clubs. The play-offs for the third Bundesliga spot were contested by FK Pirmasens and Bayer Uerdingen, with Uerdingen winning 6–0 at home after a four-all draw in the first leg. The three promoted teams however proved uncompetitive in the Bundesliga with Hannover and Uerdingen being relegated straight away again while Karlsruhe lasted for only two seasons.
The second season saw league championships for Tennis Borussia Berlin and 1. FC Saarbrücken, with Tennis Borussia lasting for only one season and 1. FCS for two. The contest for the third promotion spot pitted two far bigger names of German football against each other, with Borussia Dortmund edging out 1. FC Nürnberg with two wins, ending Dortmunds four year second division spell. The last round of the season in the south also saw an all-time goal scoring record per round when 55 goals were scored in ten games. The northern division incidentally set the second best mark when it scored 51 goals the day before.
In 1976–77 the league champions were FC St. Pauli and VfB Stuttgart while the third promotion spot went to TSV 1860 München, having had to play a third game after Arminia Bielefeld and TSV 1860 each won their home games 4–0, with the decider ending 2–0 in favour of the southern team. Ottmar Hitzfeld set an all-time 2. Bundesliga record in May 1977 when he scored 6 goals in a league match for VfB Stuttgart against Jahn Regensburg. Bielefeld won promotion as the champions of the northern division in the following season, as did southern champion SV Darmstadt 98, entering the Bundesliga for the first time in its history. Third place went to 1. FC Nürnberg who overcame Rot-Weiss Essen with a 1–0 home win and a two–all draw away. For Nürnberg it ended a nine-year absence from the Bundesliga. Horst Hrubesch set an all-time record that season for goals in one season, 41 scored for Rot-Weiss Essen.
In 1978–79 direct promotion went to TSV 1860 München and Bayer Leverkusen while the play-off was won, once more, by Bayer Uerdingen, which defeated SpVgg Bayreuth 2–1 at home after a draw away. In the north, two clubs were relegated from the league for financial reasons, Westfalia Herne, which had finished fifth and former Bundesliga side FC St. Pauli, which had come sixth. The following seasons saw 1. FC Nürnberg and Arminia Bielefeld clinch another promotion from the 2. Bundesliga, as did Karlsuher SC which overcame Rot-Weiss Essen by winning 5–1 at home after losing 3–1 away. Arminia Bielefeld set an all-time 2. Bundesliga record when it defeated Arminia Hannover 11–0 in May 1980, the biggest-ever win in the league.
The 1980–81 season, the seventh of the league, was also its last in this format. From 1981 it played as a single division of 20 teams after a decision taken on 7 June 1980, when, at a special convention of the DFB, the introduction of the single division 2. Bundesliga was decided upon with a majority of 84 votes to 77. The northern division was unusually strong that season, having received all three relegated teams of the 1979–80 Bundesliga season, SV Werder Bremen, Eintracht Braunschweig and Hertha BSC, and playing with 22 teams. Bremen won the league while Braunschweig came second. Hertha missed out despite scoring 123 goals. In the south, the league was won by SV Darmstadt 98 for a second time while runners-up Kickers Offenbach lost out to Braunschweig in the play-offs. The reduction of the league to a single division meant 22 teams were relegated while no team was promoted to the 2. Bundesliga that season.
The new single division league of 20 teams saw only a small change in modus. The top two in the league were promoted while the third placed team played the sixteenth placed Bundesliga side in a home-and-away play-off for one more spot in the Bundesliga. The bottom four in the league were relegated. The inaugural season saw FC Schalke 04 compete in the 2. Bundesliga for the first time, and win it. Second place went to Hertha BSC while third placed Kickers Offenbach missed out on promotion after losing both play-off games to Bayer Leverkusen. Fourth place went to TSV 1860 München, one point behind Offenbach, but the club found itself relegated after the DFB refused it a licence for the following season. This decision kept 17th placed SG Wattenscheid 09, the best-placed team on a relegation rank, in the league. The following season finally saw Kickers Offenbach win promotion from the 2. Bundesliga, behind champions SV Waldhof Mannheim who had never played in the Bundesliga before. Bayer Uerdingen, in third place, won promotion through the play-offs for a third time, this time overcoming the previous seasons 2. Bundesliga champions FC Schalke 04.
Schalke bounced back immediately, coming second behind Karlsruher SC in 1983–84. Third place went to MSV Duisburg wo were deceisively beaten 0–5 by Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt at home. At the other end, Rot-Weiss Essen, after having failed to win promotion to the Bundesliga through the play-offs twice from the 2. Bundesliga, was relegated to amateur football that season. 1. FC Nürnberg took out the championship of the single division 2. Bundesliga for the first time in 1985, with Hannover 96 coming second. Third placed 1. FC Saarbrücken also won promotion courtesy to a 2–0 home win over Arminia Bielefeld after a draw away. Kickers Offenbach, freshly relegated from the Bundesliga came only 19th in the 2. Bundesliga, suffered another relegation, as did another former Bundesliga side, FC St. Pauli, having returned to the league for the first time after having had its licence revoked in 1979.
In 1985–86, three clubs from Berlin competed in the league, but none the following season, with Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin achieving its one and only promotion to the Bundesliga while Hertha BSC and Tennis Borussia were relegated to amateur football. The league champions were FC 08 Homburg, also promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time. Arguably one of the most famous play-off contests in 2. Bundesliga history however were the games between third placed Fortuna Köln and Borussia Dortmund. Köln won 2–0 at home, followed by a 3–1 for Dortmund, making a third game necessary as the away goal rule did not apply to the Bundesliga versus 2. Bundesliga play-offs at the time. This third game was won 8–0 by Borussia Dortmund in front of 50,000 in neutral Düsseldorf. In the relegation zone MSV Duisburg followed the two Berlin clubs into amateur football as a third former Bundesliga side that season.
Hannover 96 and Karlsruher SC won promotion once more in 1987 while third placed FC St. Pauli, freshly promoted from amateur football again, missed out by a goal in the play-offs against FC Homburg. At the bottom end Eintracht Braunschweig became another former Bundesliga side and champion to drop into the third division. FC St. Pauli ended a ten-year wait for Bundesliga return in 1988 when it finished runners-up to Stuttgarter Kickers who were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time. Third placed SV Darmstadt 98 missed out on penalties in the deciding third game against SV Waldhof Mannheim after each side had won their home game by a goal. Arminia Bielefeld came a distant last and was relegated while 17th placed SpVgg Bayreuth was rescued when Rot-Weiß Oberhausen was refused a licence.
Fortuna Düsseldorf won the league championship in 1988–89, with two clubs from the Saarland coming second and third, FC Homburg and 1. FC Saarbrücken. Saarbrücken however was unable to overcome Eintracht Frankfurt in the later club's second successful play-off defence of its Bundesliga place. SpVgg Bayreuth finished 17th again but was again spared from relegation when Kickers Offenbach was refused a licence. Also relegated were Union Solingen after 14 consecutive seasons in the league. At the end of the season Spanish-born Joaquín Montañés retired from 2. Bundesliga football after 479 games for Alemannia Aachen in the league from 1974 to 1989, a record for any player with a single club in the league. In 1990 Hertha BSC completed its return from amateur football to the Bundesliga with a 2. Bundesliga title, followed up by SG Wattenscheid 09, who entered the Bundesliga for the first time. 1. FC Saarbrücken failed in the play-offs for a second consecutive time when it missed out to VfL Bochum, thereby ensuring a Bochum derby in the Bundesliga between VfL and Wattenscheid for the following season. In the relegation zone SpVgg Bayreuth failed to get reprieved for a third consecutive season and dropped into amateur football, as did Alemannia Aachen, a founding member of the 2. Bundesliga who had played all 16 seasons of the league until then.
The tenth season of the single division 2. Bundesliga was to be the last in its current format for a time as the German reunion in 1991 lead to changes to the league after this season. With FC Schalke 04 and MSV Duisburg two long-term Bundesliga teams finished at the top of the league. In third place Stuttgarter Kickers had to play FC St. Pauli three times to earn promotion, the first two contests having ended 1–1 while Stuttgart won the third 3–1. FC Schweinfurt 05 in last place became one of the worst clubs in the league history when it only won two games all season. Rot-Weiss Essen had its licence revoked which allowed SV Darmstadt 98 to avoid relegation.
In the 1991–92 season, the league was expanded to 24 teams in two regional divisions, north and south, to accommodate six new East German clubs which joined the league that season. The East German clubs were spread very uneven, with one going to the north and five to the south, caused by the geographic location of those clubs. Only the league champions were promoted to the Bundesliga that year, which were Bayer Uerdingen in the north and 1. FC Saarbrücken in the south. The bottom three in each division were relegated, three of which were from former East Germany. The other two were former Bundesliga clubs, Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin and TSV 1860 München, with the later having played its first season back in the 2. Bundesliga after their licence was revoked in 1982. At the end of this season the league returned to the single division format, but with still 24 clubs as its strength.
The 1992–93 season was a momentous one, with 24 teams competing in a single league and each club playing 46 games. Three clubs were promoted directly, as would be the case from then on until 2008, with the play-offs having been abolished. SC Freiburg won the league and promotion for the first time. Behind it, MSV Duisburg made a return to the Bundesliga while third placed VfB Leipzig became the first former East German club to earn promotion from the 2. Bundesliga. Seven clubs were relegated from the league to reduce its strength to 20 clubs again from the following season. Of those Eintracht Braunschweig, Fortuna Düsseldorf and SV Darmstadt 98 were former Bundesliga sides. The following season saw changes again as it was the last with 20 clubs. Promoted were VfL Bochum, Bayer Uerdingen and TSV 1860 München, which had just won promotion from the third division the year before and returned to the Bundesliga for the first time since 1981. At the bottom end, five clubs were relegated, four of those former Bundesliga sides and the fifth one, FC Carl Zeiss Jena, from former East Germany.
The league level below the 2. Bundesliga was changed profoundly in 1994 with the Oberligas replaced by the new Regionalligas, which allowed for direct promotion to the 2. Bundesliga for the first time since 1980. The league itself was now reduced to 18 clubs with no play-offs, three promoted and four relegated teams, a system it would maintain until 2008, when the play-offs were re-introduced. Hansa Rostock won the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in 1995 and FC St. Pauli and Fortuna Düsseldorf followed it up to the Bundesliga. In the relegation zone FSV Frankfurt came a distant last with only three wins to its name while the two Saarland sides FC Homburg and 1. FC Saarbrücken accompanied it. The later, despite finishing seventh, had its licence revoked, thereby sparing FSV Zwickau from relegation.
The 1995–96 season saw VfL Bochum win the league again with second placed Arminia Bielefeld winning promotion straight after having been promoted from the Regionalliga the year before. Third place went to MSV Duisburg while Hannover 96, 1. FC Nürnberg and SG Wattenscheid 09 were all former Bundesliga clubs now suffering relegation to the third division. The 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Eintracht Frankfurt had suffered their first-ever relegation from the Bundesliga in 1996. The former won the league and bounced back immediately while Frankfurt remained at this level for another season. Kaiseslautern was accompanied up by VfL Wolfsburg, who won promotion for the first time, and Hertha BSC. Kaiserslautern would also become the first and only club to win the Bundesliga as a freshly promoted side the following year. The 1. FC Kaiserslautern and SV Meppen also set a record for number of goals in a game, 13, when Kaiserslautern defeated Meppen 7–6. Eintracht Frankfurt won the league in 1998 with SC Freiburg coming second while 1. FC Nürnberg, freshly returned from the Regionalliga, came third. At the bottom end VfB Leipzig was one of three clubs from the east to be relegated, alongside SV Meppen, which dropped out of the league after eleven consecutive seasons there.
The 1998–99 season saw the 1. FC Köln in the league for the first time, having been relegated from the Bundesliga after 35 consecutive seasons there from the start of the league in 1963. Köln only managed to come tenth, while the league was won by Arminia Bielefeld. Behind Arminia Bielefeld, SpVgg Unterhaching and SSV Ulm 1846 entered the Bundesliga for the very first time. Last place in the league went to Fortuna Düsseldorf, which was accompanied to the Regionalliga by SG Wattenscheid 09, KFC Uerdingen 05, formerly Bayer Uerdingen, and FC Gütersloh. The first season of the new millennium saw the end of an era, with Fortuna Köln being relegated after 26 consecutive seasons in the league since the start in 1974. Local rival 1. FC Köln won the league while VfL Bochum came second and FC Energie Cottbus, in third place, moved up to the Bundesliga for the first time. Fortuna Köln was accompanied to the Regionalliga by Karlsruher SC, Kickers Offenbach and Tennis Borussia Berlin, who had their licence revoked.
In 2000–01, the league was won by 1. FC Nürnberg once again, with Borussia Mönchengladbach earning promotion back to the Bundesliga after a two-year absence. FC St. Pauli was the third promoted team. SSV Ulm 1846, freshly relegated from the Bundesliga, finished the season in 16th place and became insolvent. Hannover 96, Arminia Bielefeld and VfL Bochum werethe promoted teams in 2002, while the following season saw 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt competing and succeeding for promotion again, behind league champions SC Freiburg.
In 2004, 1. FC Nürnberg and Arminia Bielefeld earned another one of their many promotions while third placed 1. FSV Mainz 05 was a newcomer to the Bundesliga. Like in 2003, 2005 saw 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt win promotion while between them, in second place, MSV Duisburg moved up, too. At the bottom end three of the four relegated clubs shared similar names, Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, Rot-Weiss Essen and Rot-Weiß Erfurt with the fourth team relegated being Eintracht Trier.
VfL Bochum won the league again in 2006 while FC Energie Cottbus returned to the Bundesliga for a second three-year stint. In second place Alemannia Aachen returned to the Bundesliga for the first time since 1970. Relegated that year were Dynamo Dresden, former East German power house, after a two-year stint in th league. 2006 also saw the retirement of Willi Landgraf from 2. Bundesliga football. Landgraf had played a record 508 2. Bundesliga games from 1986 to 2006, playing in the league for Rot-Weiss Essen, FC 08 Homburg, FC Gütersloh and Alemannia Aachen. Karlsruher SC ended an absence from the Bundesliga that had lasted since 1998 when it won the league in 2007 and was followed up by Hansa Rostock and MSV Duisburg. Freshly relegated Borussia Mönchengladbach won the league the following year, with new Bundesliga club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim second and 1. FC Köln third.
The 2008–09 season saw the return of play-offs. The third placed team in the 2. Bundesliga now played the 16th placed team in the Bundesliga for a spot in that league. At the other end of the table, the 16th placed 2. Bundesliga side would now also play the third placed team in the new 3. Liga, which had replaced the Regionalliga as the third division. SC Freiburg and 1. FSV Mainz 05 were directly promoted that season while 1. FC Nürnberg had to enter the play-offs in which it defeated FC Energie Cottbus 5–0 on aggregate. At the relegation end, VfL Osnabrück lost its 2. Bundesliga place to SC Paderborn 07 from the 3. Liga.
1. FC Kaiserslautern ended a four-year spell in the 2. Bundesliga in 2010 with a league championship, with FC St. Pauli coming second. The FC Augsburg finished third but was unable to overcome 1. FC Nürnberg in the play-offs and lost 3–0 on aggregate. Hansa Rostock, in 16th place, dropped out of the 2. Bundesliga when it lost both play-off games to FC Ingolstadt 04. Hertha BSC and FC Augsburg were directly promoted to the Bundesliga in 2010, the later for the first time, while VfL Bochum in third place missed out on promotion against Borussia Mönchengladbach. VfL Osnabrück found itself unsuccessfully defending its league place again, losing to Dynamo Dresden in extra time in the second leg.
After 15 consecutive seasons in the 2. Bundesliga a numerous attempts at promotion SpVgg Greuther Fürth finally won the league in 2012. Eintracht Frankfurt came second and Fortuna Düsseldorf returned to the Bundesliga for the first time since 1997 when it defeated Hertha BSC in th play-offs. Karlsruher SC failed to remain in the 2. Bundesliga when it was relegated on away goal rule after two drawn games against Jahn Regensburg.
Hertha BSC won the 2. Bundesliga for the second time in three seasons in 2012–13 and was accompanied up by Eintracht Braunschweig, who had not played in the Bundesliga since 1985. Third placed 1. FC Kaiserslautern lost both games to 1899 Hoffenheim and thereby failed to get promoted. Dynamo Dresden became the first 2. Bundesliga side in five attempts to hold on to their league place while 3. Liga side VfL Osnabrück missed out in the play-offs for a third time in three attempts. The 2013–14 season ended with 1. FC Köln winning the league, followed up by SC Paderborn 07 who won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time. Relegated where Energie Cottbus and Dynamo Dresden, both former Bundesliga sides. Third placed SpVgg Greuther Fürth failed to gain promotion after two draws with Bundesliga club Hamburger SV. At the bottom end two eastern clubs were relegated, Dynamo Dresden and Energie Cottbus, while Arminia Bielefeld entered the relegation round.
The 2014–15 season saw FC Ingolstadt 04 win the league and earn Bundesliga promotion for the first time while SV Darmstadt 98 finished second and returned to the Bundesliga for the first time since 1982. Third placed Karlsruher SC faced Hamburg for another Bundesliga spot while TSV 1860 Munich had to play Holstein Kiel to retain their place in the 2. Bundesliga. Both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs retained their league membership. The two clubs directly relegated from the league where Erzgebirge Aue and VfR Aalen. In the 2015–16 the league was won by SC Freiburg, with RB Leipzig finishing runners-up and earning its first-ever Bundesliga promotion, while 1. FC Nürnberg had to enter the promotion play-off where it lost on aggregate to Eintracht Frankfurt. At the bottom end of the table SC Paderborn suffered consecutive relegations, becoming the sixth club to drop from the Bundesliga to the third tier in consecutive seasons. FSV Frankfurt was the second team directly relegated while MSV Duisburg entered the relegation play-off where it was unsuccessful. All the clubs promoted to the 2. Bundesliga had played there before but while Dynamo Dresden and Erzgebirge Aue had only experienced a short absence the third club, Würzburger Kickers, had not played at this level for almost 40 years.
In December 2016, it was announced that for the first time, the 2. Bundesliga would be given its own logo, taking effect at the start of the 2017–18 season. Previously, the 2. Bundesliga had borrowed the Bundesliga logo for promotional and media purposes. The 2. Bundesliga gained its own logo to "strengthen the profile of the competition" and to better identify the league with fans, the media, and sponsors.
The most consistent team in the league, as of 2015–16, is Alemannia Aachen, having won 1,481 points from 1,020 games. In second place sits SpVgg Greuther Fürth, best placed of the current 2. Bundesliga clubs. Fortuna Köln comes third in the all-time table, while last place, number 125, goes to Spandauer SV with just ten points to its name. For the 2015–16 season, no new team with no previous 2. Bundesliga experience had entered the league with the same being the case for 2016–17.
For details on the 2. Bundesliga 2016–17 season, see here.Number of clubs: currently 18. From 1974 to 1981 there were two divisions, each of 20 teams. From 1981 to 1991 it had 20. The 1991–92 season was played in two groups of 12 teams each; 1992–93 again in one group with 24 teams, 1993–94 with 20 teams.
Teams promoted to the Bundesliga: 3; 1981–1991 there was a promotion/relegation round, in 1991–92 there was 1 promotion per group.
Number of relegations into the Regionalliga (until 1994: Oberliga): 4; 1991–92: 2–3 per group (inclusive relegation); 1992–93: 7.
From the 1992–93 season to the 2008–09 season, the top three teams gained promotion into the Bundesliga; after this, and to the present, only the top two teams are promoted automatically, and the third placed team plays a two-leg playoff against the team that finishes 16th in the Bundesliga.
Until the 2007–08 season, the bottom four teams were relegated into the Regional leagues. Since the 2008–09, following the inception of the 3. Liga, only the bottom two teams are relegated into the 3. Liga automatically; the third from bottom team can avoid relegation by winning a two-leg playoff against the team that finishes in 3rd place in the 3. Liga.
Since the 2006–07 season there is no limit on non-EU players in the league any more. Instead clubs are required to have 8 players on the squad who have come up through the youth system of a German club, 4 of which have to come from the club's own youth system. Seven substitutes are permitted to be selected, from which three can be used in the duration of the game.Bold denotes team earned promotion.
The list of teams that earned promotion to and from the 2. Bundesliga or were relegated from the league:
The leagues records up to and including the 2015–16 season:
The spectator figures since 1992, when the league returned to the single division format:
The most recent top goal scorers in the league: