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What does Project Big Picture propose?
One part of the plan would see £250m shared from the Premier League to the three tiers of the English Football League below it. This would match a sum requested by the chair of the EFL, Rick Parry, who has warned that clubs could go to the wall without a bailout. Parry is one of the driving forces behind the proposals, alongside the Liverpool owner, John W Henry, and the Manchester United chairman, Joel Glazer.
There is much more to Project Big Picture than a bailout, however. The plan proposes a new way of distributing the all-important TV revenues the globally popular Premier League has been able to generate. In future, the EFL would sell its broadcast rights alongside those of the top flight and would take 25% of the proceeds. This would put the lower leagues, so the plan argues, on a stronger, more stable financial footing for the future.
Alongside that, there would be big changes for the Premier League too. First of all it would be reduced in size from 20 clubs to 18. Only two teams would be automatically relegated each season, with a third able to play off against the sides placed third, fourth and fifth in the Championship for the final place in the top flight. The Carabao Cup, run by the EFL, would be abandoned as would the Community Shield.
Most significantly of all, perhaps, Project Big Picture proposes that the nine longest serving Premier League teams (the so-called big six of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, as well as Everton, West Ham and Southampton) would be given preferential votes that would mean just six of them would need to agree in order to approve any change in the rules or, alternatively, veto them.
Is this a power grab then?
Absolutely. Until this point the Premier League has decided every change on a one club, one vote basis. A majority vote of 14 has been required for action to take place. This would no longer be the case under Project Big Picture, and while briefing documents suggest that the expanded voting power of “long-term shareholders” would only be effective in certain areas, they are crucial ones. Under the plan, the nine could approve a TV deal or veto the new owner of a club. There is also no guarantee that these powers, once approved, could not be extended in future.
What’s in it for the EFL?
A complete reset of the terms under which they do business. Not only would their clubs receive the bailout that has been mooted since the Covid crisis began – but has yet to materialise – they would also get more revenue on an annual basis. The EFL is currently into the second season of a five-year broadcast deal with Sky totalling £595m. A 35% increase on its previous deal, it is still in total only around a quarter of the TV revenue earned each year by the Premier League. The plan would allow the EFL to get a piece of that action and while it would lose the Carabao Cup, the revenues generated from that competition are negligible by comparison (with TV coverage wrapped up into the current EFL deal).
This all sounds very money-oriented …
It is, and that’s football. It’s a multibillion pound entertainment business nowadays. It is also, however, a crucial part of British life and society and within Project Big Picture there is a third strand that would impose tougher spending controls across the game, including a cap on spending on agents and a “hard” salary cap for the Championship where some clubs, in recent years, have been found to have spent more than their entire income on players’ wages. Such changes, the argument goes, would make the football pyramid sustainable for the future.
What happens next?
Most of the clubs in the Premier League were caught by surprise at the news of Project Big Picture. This has not helped in persuading them of its virtues. But it has also finally brought the issue of how best to run the game in England to the table. Clubs and governing bodies alike will now be scratching their heads working out what’s in it for them and how best to proceed. Expect more plans, more ideas, and a lot of heated debate (although not much of it will be conducted in public). Meanwhile the Covid crisis will continue and local clubs deprived of fans at their matches will be trying to keep the wolf from the door.