After hearing Sky Sports commentators once again refer to 'second season syndrome' I decided to investigate the matter to see whether it holds up. This term is often applied to players and managers when comparing their first and second seasons performance but was originally coined to evaluate a club the season after their promotion to the Premier League. In American sports a similar 'curse' has been referred to as the sophomore slump or sophomore jinx.
There were 8 occurrences of this apparent curse in the Premier League. It happened to Middlesbrough (97/98), Bradford (00/01), Ipswich (01/02), West Brom (05/06), Reading (07/08), Hull (09/10), Birmingham (10/11) and QPR (12/13). All of these teams were promoted to the Premier League, survived for one season and were subsequently relegated the next.
So does this spell doom for Southampton and West Ham, both of whom finished outside the relegation zone last year?
Since the Premier League became a 20-team competition in 1995, 43% of promoted teams were actually relegated in their first season. In only 1 season were all three promoted teams relegated; this happened in 97/98 when Bolton Wanderers, Barnsley and Crystal Palace all went down. In fact, over the 18 years 'second season syndrome' has happened to just 8 teams or 26% of all those that survived the first season. Hardly a 'curse'?
On closer inspection 4 out of the 8 apparent second season curses involved the promoted team finishing 17th in their first season, just avoiding the drop. This was the case for Bradford, West Brom, Hull and QPR. Furthermore, Middlesbrough were deducted 3 points in the 97/98 season for failing to fulfil a fixture against Blackburn Rovers after manager Bryan Robson cited an injury and illness crisis as the reason he couldn't field a team.
The lesson is that the first and not the second season is the greatest challenge for teams in the Premier League. Once a team has survived their first season in the Premier League, there seems to be an approx. 75% chance of remaining for the following season too, given that a sizeable portion of promoted teams go straight back down.