Project Big Picture explained: What it means to the Premier League, EFL and future of English football
October 30, 2020, by Rakesh Naik
• Project Big Picture is an action plan to radically overhaul the Premier League in an attempt to safeguard football clubs in the EFL.
• The plan has been three years in the making with Liverpool and Manchester at the forefront.
• A £350 million rescue package to EFL & Football Association, annual solidarity payments to EFL of 25% of Premier League revenue and a yearly infrastructure funding package of 6% of Premier League gross revenues to be distributed to top four divisions.
• If the project is adopted, the power would be placed in the hands of the established ‘Big Six’ along with Southampton, West Ham United and Everton.
News broke last weekend of proposals laid out in Project Big Picture, an action plan to radically overhaul the Premier League in an attempt to safeguard football clubs in the EFL.
If actioned, drastic changes to the current English structure would be carried out, with a move to an 18-team Premier League top-flight and greater powers to the ‘big six’ among them.
Seemingly constructed without the knowledge of the Premier League, England’s top-flight organisation has already expressed its disappointment at EFL chairman Rick Parry’s support of the “damaging” plans, but Parry went on the front foot to explain why he feels change is necessary.
Here we take a closer look at what is being proposed :
Why is this happening?
EFL clubs, especially in League One and Two, have been feeling the financial squeeze for some time, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the knock-on effect of fans not being allowed into grounds has only aggravated the situation. They are hoping for a bail-out from the Premier League, which benefits from massive television revenues, but a long-term solution would guarantee long-term stability.
The plan has been three years in the making with Liverpool and Manchester United, England’s two most successful and powerful clubs, at the forefront. Premier League’s original chief executive, Rick Parry 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 when they are relegated) 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.
Why are the plans controversial?
The proposals range from dealing with league reorganisation to capping away ticket prices. However, 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, and greater voting rights given to the nine longest-serving Premier League clubs. The League Cup and Community Shield would also be discontinued.
So how does this benefit the EFL?
The proposal, on adoption of the plan, is for an immediate £350million rescue package to the EFL and Football Association (£250million/£100m), followed by annual solidarity payments to the EFL of 25 per cent of Premier League revenue (up from four per cent) and a yearly infrastructure funding package of six per cent of Premier League gross revenues to be distributed to the top four divisions.
What will be the opposition to it?
If adopted, Project Big Picture would place the power in the hands of the established ‘Big Six’ – Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – with the nine longest-serving clubs having unprecedented power, with the votes of just six of them required to make major changes. That obviously takes the power away from the other top-flight sides currently enjoying one-club, one-vote status, with a majority of 14 currently required for any significant decisions to be passed.
How would things change in the Premier League?
Among many proposals the stand-out is that the League would shrink from 20 teams to 18. The bottom two teams would be relegated to the second tier Championship and be replaced annually by the top two teams in that division.
In addition, there would be an annual four-team playoff for a place in the top flight involving the third, fourth and fifth placed teams in the Championship and the 16th-placed Premier League team.
All changes would take place for the 2022-23 season. In order to reach 18 teams, the prior season would probably see four teams relegated and only two promoted.
The League Cup and pre-season Community Shield would be scrapped and the season would start later in August, allowing a longer window for lucrative tours.
Is this the Premier League’s ‘COVID-19 bail-out’ for the EFL?
The plan has not been produced by or agreed to by the Premier League but it does contain a proposed ‘rescue fund’ with 250 million pounds earmarked as an immediate one-off payment to the 72 EFL clubs and another 100 million for the FA.
It also envisages a rise in the annual ‘solidarity payments’ from the Premier League to the EFL from 4 percent of media net revenues to 25 percent.
The idea is also for the Premier League to sell the EFL’s broadcast rights as part of a package.
Where is the money coming from?
The proposal also calls for an end to ‘parachute payments’ to clubs relegated from the Premier League.
They are calculated as a share of the broadcasting rights and though they vary, in the last two years the payment has averaged around 250 million pounds. Having two fewer Premier League clubs would also reduce the amount shared out from the collective pot.
Would the six big clubs gain a bigger share of the TV cash?
Yes, almost certainly. There are several options being floated but the principle behind them is an increase in the share based on ‘merit’ – a weighting based on league position, clearly a good idea for those teams who frequently finish in the top six.
Why are critics calling it a ‘power grab’?
Because the project also calls for ‘Special Voting Rights’ for the nine clubs that have the longest continuous membership of the Premier League.
This marks a break with the system of ‘one club, one vote’ in place since the league’s founding in 1992.
Those nine clubs currently would comprise the ‘big six’ of Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, along with Southampton, West Ham United and Everton – the three other longest-serving top-flight clubs.
The nine would have the power to elect or remove a new chief executive, approve broadcast and media rights deals, handle cost control rules, block changes to television revenue distribution and even veto any new club owner approved by the Premier League board.
They could exercise all those powers, regardless of the opinions of other Premier League clubs. In order to carry out those powers, six of the nine would need to agree to a given measure, which critics have suggested is a de facto handing of power to the big six.
Why would the smaller clubs vote for this plan?
It currently requires 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs to pass any proposal or policy and it is hard to imagine that the smaller clubs would vote for less power and a smaller share of the revenue.
However, it is likely that the proposals will be negotiated and changes could be made to help bring more clubs on board and help the big six find the eight clubs they need to turn their plan into a reality.
The FA also has a ‘golden share’ in the Premier League, allowing it to block the changes, should it feel they damage the game.
What happens if the plan gets rejected?
If the Premier League clubs vote against the plan then all manner of scenarios come into play and for EFL clubs there is the risk of further delay and uncertainty over the ‘bailout’.
For the big six, the question is whether they will simply accept the smaller clubs thwarting their project.
Some media reports claim, Parry has suggested that the big clubs simply walk out of the Premier League and become the ‘big six’ in the Championship – which would effectively cut the Premier League off. When asked, Parry refused to comment on that suggestion.
What have the Premier League said?
Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol says there is concern that Liverpool and Manchester United’s ‘Project Big Picture’ proposals could turn out to be a ‘horror movie’ for English football.
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 deprives the other top-flight sides currently enjoying one-club, one-vote status of power; currently, a majority of 14 is required for any significant decisions to be passed. Among those decisions is new ownership of Premier League clubs; so if an outsider team is approached for a takeover, they would need six of the big nine to vote in favour of it.
“On the face of it 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.”
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.