The 3. Liga (German: Dritte Liga when written in full; more explicit: 3. Fußball-Liga), is the third division of football in Germany. The league started with the beginning of the 2008–09 season, when it replaced the Regionalliga as the third tier football league in Germany. In the German football league system, it is positioned between the 2. Bundesliga and the semi-professional Regionalliga, which became the fourth division and initially consisted of three groups of 18 clubs playing separately. In Germany, the 3. Liga is the highest division that a football club's reserve team can play in.
On 8 September 2006, the German Football Association, the DFB, announced the formation of the 3. Liga. It was originally anticipated that the league's name would be 3. Bundesliga, but the DFB chose 3. Liga instead, reflecting the fact that the league will be directly administered by the DFB, not by the German Football League DFL (Deutsche Fußball Liga) who runs both Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga.
The first match of the 3. Liga was played on 25 July 2008 between FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt and Dynamo Dresden at the Steigerwaldstadion in Erfurt. Dynamo Dresden won the match 1–0, with Halil Savran scoring the only goal in the closing stages of the first half.
From its foundation in 2008 to 2013 the league had been operating on a financial loss, with a record deficit of €20.9 million in 2012–13. The 2013–14 season saw the league make a profit for the first time, being €4.9 million in the plus. The league earned €164.5 million, well behind the two Bundesligas above it but also well ahead of other professional sports leagues in Germany with the Deutsche Eishockey Liga following with €106.1 million and the Basketball Bundesliga and Handball-Bundesliga sitting around the €90 million mark. This makes it the third-most economically successful professional league in all German sports.
For details on the 3. Liga 2016–17 season, see here.
The teams which are not reserve teams of Bundesliga teams among the 20 teams in the league compete for promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, while the three bottom teams are relegated to one of the five Regionalligen: Regionalliga Nord, Regionalliga Nordost, Regionalliga West, Regionalliga Südwest, and Regionalliga Bayern. If, however, a reserve team is playing in the 3. Liga and the respective first team is relegated to the 3. Liga, the reserve team will be relegated to the Regionalliga regardless of its league position.
At the end of the 2007–08 season, the two best non-reserve teams from each of the two divisions of the Regionalliga were promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. The teams ranked third to tenth in both Regionalliga entered the new 3. Liga, joining the four teams relegated from the 2. Bundesliga to form the new 20-team league. Teams finishing 11th or lower in their Regionalliga remained where they were.
On 18 May 2008, at the end of the 2007–08 2. Bundesliga season, four clubs were relegated from the 2. Bundesliga and became charter members of the 3. Liga: Kickers Offenbach, FC Erzgebirge Aue, SC Paderborn 07 and FC Carl Zeiss Jena.
On 31 May 2008, at the end of the 2007–08 Regionalliga seasons, clubs placing third through tenth in the Regionalliga Nord and the Regionalliga Süd also qualified for the new 3. Liga.
From the Regionalliga Nord:Fortuna Düsseldorf
1. FC Union Berlin
SV Werder Bremen II
Wuppertaler SV Borussia
FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt
From the Regionalliga Süd:VfB Stuttgart II
FC Bayern Munich II
SSV Jahn Regensburg
The winner and runner-up in a given season is automatically promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. The third place team enters a home/away playoff against the 16th placed team of the 2. Bundesliga for the right to enter/stay in the 2. Bundesliga. Teams placing in the bottom three are automatically sent to the Regionalliga.Bold denotes team earned promotion.
Up to and including the 2015–16 season the top goal scorers, attendance statistics and records for the league are:
As of 14 May 2016
The following clubs have played in the league and achieved the following final positions:1 Kickers Emden withdrew from the league after the 2008–09 season, relegated Burghausen received their place. Emden became insolvent in 2012.
2 RW Ahlen did not receive a licence for the 2011–12 season, originally finishing 17th after 2010–11. The club was placed in 20th position and relegated. Previously relegated Burghausen, placed 18th originally, were instead placed in 17th position and were not relegated. Ahlen did not request a license in the Regionalliga and started the new season in the Oberliga.
3 TuS Koblenz withdrew from the league after the 2011–12 season, relegated Bremen II received their place instead.
4 Kickers Offenbach was refused a 3. Liga licence at the end of the 2012–13 season and relegated to the Regionalliga. SV Darmstadt 98 took Offenbach's place.
At the end of the regular season the third placed team in the 3. Liga play the 16th placed team in the 2. Bundesliga over two matches. The overall winner plays in the 2. Bundesliga in the following season, and the loser in the 3. Liga.2008–09
Since the 2012–13 season, the champions of the five Regionalligas and the runners-up of the Regionalliga Südwest enter an end-of-the season play-off to determine the three teams promoted to the 3. Liga.2012–13
Winner in bold.