Project Big Picture Splits Opinion On Future Of Game

Project Big Picture has caused a split among football’s clubs and associations after news broke of the plans formulated by the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United with the consultation of EFL Chairman and former Premier League Chief Executive, Rick Parry.


The news of the project caught the majority of Premier League clubs and its Chief Executive, Richard Masters by surprise but was confirmed by the EFL whose Chairman Rick Parry had been working on the plans with Manchester United’s Joel Glazer and Liverpool’s John W Henry.


The Project Big Picture hosts a number of proposals to restructure the professional game in the UK with plans to reduce the number of clubs in the Premier League to 18 from the current 20 whilst providing an immediate cash injection of £250m to aid clubs in the EFL and £100m to the FA. The plans also include a 25% share of future TV revenue for the EFL along with the abolition of Parachute Payments.


In a statement released by the EFL, Chair Rick Parry, said: “The need for a complete rethinking regarding the funding of English professional football predates the Covid-19 crisis. Discussion and planning around ‘Project Big Picture’ has been ongoing for quite some time, unrelated to the current pandemic but now has an urgency that simply cannot be denied.


“The revenues flowing from the investment and work of our top clubs has been largely limited to the top division creating a sort of lottery, while Championship clubs struggle to behave prudently and Leagues One and Two are financially stretched despite enormous revenues English football generates. This plan devised by our top clubs and the English Football League puts an end to all of that.


“The gap between the Premier League and the English Football League has become a chasm which has become unbridgeable for Clubs transitioning between the EFL and Premier League. In 2018/19, Championship clubs received £146 million in EFL distributions and Premier League solidarity payments. This compares with £1.58 billion received by the bottom 14 Premier League clubs – 11 times as much.


“At the same time, Parachute Payments received by the eight recently relegated clubs totalled £246 million. This represents one-third of the total Championship turnover and creates a major distortion that impacts the League annually.


“In an effort to achieve promotion from very small media monies in the Championship to extraordinary sums at the bottom of the Premier League, Championship clubs spent 107% of their income on wages last season, a figure that is unsustainable by any analysis but by no means a new phenomenon. The figure has been 99% or above in each of the last four seasons. Consequently, our Clubs incurred operating losses of £382 million last season.


“In the last 12 months, owners have had to inject some £384 million in capital – all before a pandemic created the current financial crisis and impacted Clubs, alongside many of the businesses that help fund them.


“Project Big Picture takes a huge step by sharing 25% of Premier League media net revenues with the EFL in order to correct this imbalance going forward. Coupled with the introduction of strict cost controls, Clubs at every level of the EFL will become properly sustainable even in the face of a major crisis – and more importantly – beyond.


“Just as importantly, the financial gap between the bottom of the Premier League and the top of the Championship will be substantially reduced. This will create a much softer landing for relegated clubs. The elimination of Parachute Payments will create fairer competition and discourage irrational behaviour.


“The creation of a short-term rescue fund of £250 million to replace lost match day revenue this season and last will enable every Club to plan to continue to play and move forward with certainty. As an advance against increased, future revenues this is not a loan and therefore does not need to be repaid. It could never have been repaid under the existing terms and revenue of the English pyramid.


“Now is the time to address both the long-term health of the game and the most challenging short- term crisis it has ever faced. Project Big Picture provides a new beginning which will revitalise the football pyramid at all levels. This new beginning will reinvigorate clubs in the lower leagues and the communities in which they are based.


“The whole of English football has been negatively impacted by this pandemic and the English football pyramid as a whole is only as healthy as those at its base. Through this proposed restructuring we aim to strengthen those who need it most at a time when they need it most.


“This is about building on what is good and making the most of what works well in order to benefit the game as a whole, while simultaneously tackling those issues which trouble all of us. This is a blueprint for the future of English football and for everyone who cherishes it.”


However, the news drew criticism from the Premier League who were uniformed of the plans until they were announced on Sunday (11th Oct).  They said in a statement: “Both the Premier League and The FA support a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game, including its competition structures, calendar and overall financing particularly in light of the effects of Covid-19.


“Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.


“In the Premier League’s view, 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.


“The Premier League has been working in good faith with its clubs and the EFL to seek a resolution to the requirement for COVID-19 rescue funding. This work will continue.”


That sentiment was also echoed in a statement by the UK government. In a response to the news, an official spokesperson for the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport , said: “It’s clear that proposal does not command support through PL and it is exactly this type of back room dealing that undermines trust in football’s governance.”


The plans will also seek to reform the voting rights for member clubs in the Premier League which currently operates as a one club, one vote structure. The new plans aim to give the top six plus an additional three long-term Premier League member clubs the majority of voting rights.


Guardian journalist, David Conn, who is often critical of the way football is run, suggested that he plans were worthy of consideration writing in his column for the newspaper: “…quite rightly, there should be a battle over the detail of these proposals. If the other 14 Premier League clubs want to fight for the maintenance of the one club, one vote system that is understandable; most football people would agree with it.


“But the heart of the plan should not be swept off the table, which is for the Premier League to finally reconnect with the EFL, mend the gap and ease the senseless worry that loved and historic clubs will go bust in the time of football’s greatest boom.”


An initial statement of response from the Football Supporters’ Association, said: “The Football Supporters’ Association notes with grave concern today’s press reports of proposals for a major restructure of the Premier League, with far-reaching consequences for the whole of domestic football.


“Football is far more than a business to be carved up; it is part of our communities and our heritage, and football fans are its lifeblood. As football’s most important stakeholders, it is crucial that fans are consulted and involved in the game’s decision-making.


“We have welcomed the government’s commitment to a ‘fan-led review of the governance of football’; we would argue that today’s revelations have made that process even more relevant and urgent.


“We will of course study the detail of the new proposals, we remain open-minded to any suggestions for the improvement of the governance and organisation of the game, whatever their source and we will continue to engage constructively in all discussions around reform.


“We would however emphasise that in our discussions so far, very few of our members have ever expressed the view that what football really needs is a greater concentration of power in the hands of the big six billionaire-owned clubs.”


Image: PA Images