It would be the biggest shake-up in English football since the launch of the Premier League, but just what is Project Big Picture and could it come into effect?
Project Big Picture in brief
Project Big Picture is already very divisive and potentially seismic. It has been described as the biggest single shake-up of the English professional game in a generation if it comes to pass.
“It’s called Project Big Picture but it could turn out to be a horror movie as far as English football is concerned,” says Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol.
So what would the proposal entail? Here are the key points:
- The Premier League would be reduced from 20 to 18 clubs.
- The League Cup and the Community Shield would be scrapped.
- Current one-club one-vote principle would be abolished, as would rule that 14 clubs out of the current 20 need to agree on policy.
- Power would be in the nine clubs that have remained in the Premier League longest (Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Southampton, Tottenham, West Ham).
- Only six of the nine longest-serving clubs need to vote for major change.
- A £250m payment up front payment to the EFL, plus £100m payment to the Football Association.
- 25 per cent of Premier League annual revenue (up from four per cent) would go to the EFL clubs.
Why do the EFL want it?
Twenty-five per cent of all combined Premier League and EFL revenues would go to EFL clubs – a huge increase to the current arrangement of four per cent – and £250m up front to help clubs survive during the current financial crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic and the knock-on effect of fans not being allowed into grounds has lead to EFL clubs feeling the financial pinch.
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The need for a bail-out from Premier League clubs benefitting from TV revenues has only intensified and Project Big Picture is viewed as a solution for a sustainable future for many clubs in League One and League Two.
What have the Premier League said?
The Premier League have already voiced their unease about the proposal, stating: ‘A number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, Chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.’
Translated, the Premier League are, to borrow the analysis of Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol, “distinctly unimpressed”.
Parry’s involvement in the plans is likely to create tensions between him and the Premier League. In the short term it could impact any possible bailout from the Premier League to the EFL, in the wake of coronavirus.
Why are the Premier League worried?
If adopted, Project Big Picture would place the power in the hands of the established so-called ‘Big Six’ – Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – along with the three clubs with the longest continual stay in the Premier League – Southampton, West Ham and Everton.
But only the votes of six of those clubs would be required to make major changes.
Clearly, that takes the power away from the other top-flight sides who currently enjoy one-club, one-vote status; currently, a majority of 14 is required for any significant decisions to be passed. Among those decisions are new ownership of Premier League clubs; so if a team outside of the the big nine are approached for a takeover, they’d need six of the big nine to vote in favour of it.
“On the face of there is little chance of 14 Premier League clubs voting for these proposals,” reported Solhekol. “The clubs are already losing money because of the pandemic and the value of broadcast rights are falling. Why would the majority vote for proposals which would cut the amount of money they receive and increase the likelihood of them being relegated? It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.”
Who is driving the plan?
The reform plan, drawn up by Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, was started in 2017, with Manchester United also at the forefront.
Rick Parry, the Premier League’s original chief executive, has been in place at the EFL just over a year and has been working on a solution to the perennial funding problem, claiming parachute payments, which clubs receive over three years when they are relegated to the Championship, are an “evil that needs to be eradicated”. He is fully onboard with the plans and believes the majority of EFL clubs will be too.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Parry said: “It’s been a long time in the making. There has been dialogue with our major clubs – not just Manchester United and Liverpool. It’s been many months in the making. It’s been thought through and thoroughly analysed.
“At its heart, it is very simple: it’s about taking a major chunk of the media revenues, funnelling them downwards through the game and recognising the relevance of the importance of keeping the pyramid strong, not just in the short term but in the long term.
“It doesn’t matter where the idea has come from. What matters is that the idea has enormous merit. And l think the fact that of our major clubs are showing great interest in the pyramid, and are demonstrating leadership, is something to be applauded.
“We genuinely think that this is in the big interests of the game as a whole – certainly in the best interests of the pyramid.”
What are the radical reforms?
Go deeper and you’ll find wide-ranging proposals dealing with everything from league reorganisation to capping away ticket prices.
Subsidised Premier League away travel, away sections of at least 3,000 (or eight per cent of capacity) and a £20 cap on away tickets will delight some fans, as will the idea of safe-standing sections (subject to government permission).
There’s also the plan to put a greater emphasis on merit for position finishes in the Premier League, with more prize money than usual awarded for finishing higher up the table. The footballing calendar would also be organised with the focus of avoiding fixture pile-ups and to help the England national team.
The women’s professional league would also go independent, away from the Premier League and FA.
Among the most contentious are reducing the Premier League to 18 teams, with the club finishing 16th in the Premier League joining a play-off with Championship teams in third, fourth and fifth. The League Cup and Community Shield would also be discontinued.
And in terms of media, all Premier League clubs could sell eight live matches a season directly to fans from their own channels.
How would that work?
“Big clubs have long wanted to be able to exploit the value of their international TV rights and this would give them the power to do that,” reported Kaveh Solhekol on Sky Sports News. “All Premier League clubs would have the exclusive rights to sell eight live games directly to fans outside the UK on their own digital platforms. And in the future, who knows? They could vote to increase the eight games to 16 to 24 to 36.
“Going forward there would be nothing to stop the Big Six from using their preferred votes to increase the number of games. This is the ultimate aim for the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. United controversially claim they have 1.1bn fans worldwide (one in every seven human beings) including 253m in China.
“They want to monetise that fan base by charging them directly to watch their games. At the moment the majority of the income from Premier League international broadcast rights is split equally between the 20 clubs.”
What has the government’s reaction been?
A statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport read on Sunday: “We are surprised and disappointed that at a time of crisis when we have urged the top tiers of professional football to come together and finalise a deal to help lower league clubs there appear to be backroom deals being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game.
“Sustainability, integrity and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling. Fans must be front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan led review of football governance will be so critical.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, whose government brief includes sport, was asked on Monday’s Kay Burley programme on Sky News if the plan would protect smaller clubs or simply be a power-grab by the bigger ones.
“I fear it’s the latter and I’m quite sceptical about this,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in the Premier League. Just look at the last transfer window, over £1bn – I believe that is more than the next four largest leagues in Europe put together – has been spent in that window.
“There is the money in the sport. They should be getting together to sort the sport out. I’m afraid if we keep having these backroom deals and all these other things going on, we will have to look at the underlying governance of football.”
In terms of the press, the Daily Mail’s headline on Monday read “Premier League descends into civil war”, with Martin Samuel calling it a “disgusting Big Six power grab”.
The Times call it a “clever, and highly cynical, act of misdirection”, The Daily Telegraph say it is a “hostile takeover spun as a rescue package,” but David Conn at The Guardian says the “negative reaction seems bizarre” and suggests the proposal should not be swept off the table.
What happens next?
“There will be a PR charm offensive over the next few days for the hearts and minds of fans to convince them that these proposals are good for the game,” predicted Solhekol. “We are being told the owners of Manchester United and Liverpool are very concerned about the football pyramid and the plight of lower league clubs.
“It’s difficult to believe that’s what they worry about when they wake up in the morning, and it’s more likely they want to make more money and they believe they have been prevented from doing so by the Premier League’s rules and the 14 majority rule.”
A Premier League shareholders’ meeting is scheduled for this week.
While a bailout for the EFL clubs was due to be one of the key subjects on the agenda, the issue is now likely to dominate along with reaction to the Big Picture proposal.
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