What is English football's 'Project Big Picture' and who stands to benefit?

·4-min read

New proposals backed by Liverpool and Manchester United for wide-ranging reform of English football have been criticised by the UK government, Premier League and fans' groups.

The so-called "Project Big Picture" has been labelled a "power grab" by the Premier League's biggest and wealthiest clubs, taking advantage of the dire financial position of the English Football League (EFL) -- which comprises the three divisions directly beneath the top flight -- amid the coronavirus crisis.

But many in the EFL, including chairman Rick Parry, back the plan as a means of addressing the imbalance in resources between the top and bottom of the football pyramid.

AFP Sport looks at what "Project Big Picture" proposes and who could gain from it:

Competition reform

The principal difference on the field would be the reduction of the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams with the overall number of clubs in the top four English divisions shrinking from 92 to 90.

Only two teams would be automatically promoted to and relegated from the Premier League with third-bottom in the top tier joining third, fourth and fifth in the second-tier Championship for the traditional end-of-season play-offs.

The League Cup and season curtain-raiser, the Community Shield, would also be scrapped, providing more space in the calendar for lucrative pre-season tours and potentially more matches in European club competition for the biggest clubs.

Revenue sharing

The Premier League would provide an instant £250 million ($325 million) cash injection to the EFL to prevent clubs going bust at a time when they are without match-day revenue due to coronavirus restrictions.

A further £100 million would be provided to the English Football Association, which also has mounting coronavirus costs due to international games behind closed doors, notably to help women's football.  

There is also more funding for the lower leagues in the long-term. In future, Premier League and EFL broadcast rights would be sold together and 25 percent distributed down the divisions.

What's the catch?

The principal objection to the plans is that the power will be concentrated in the hands of the "big six" - United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

At the moment, a majority of 14 from the 20 Premier League clubs is required for any significant decisions to be passed with each club having one vote.

Under the proposals, the "big six" and the other three longest-serving Premier League members - currently Everton, Southampton and West Ham United - would hold the balance of power with only six of those nine needed to vote in major rule changes.

That would include the power to approve or block takeovers of other clubs, for example the Saudi-backed deal for Newcastle United that recently fell through.

Moreover, each club could sell the rights of up to eight live matches a season direct to fans over their own channels. That would be far more lucrative for the bigger clubs with huge worldwide fanbases, but is likely to reduce collective TV deals, where the EFL's 25 percent share comes from.

Parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League would also be abolished.

Who is backing it?

Parry, formerly the Liverpool chief executive, has been the most vocal senior figure supporting the plan after months of warning that EFL clubs face a £200 million black hole in their finances with games being held behind closed doors.

Despite being behind the proposals, Liverpool and United are yet to comment publicly. However, the plans have received considerable support from clubs throughout the EFL.

Who is against it?

A powerful alliance of the Premier League, government and supporters groups has warned about selling control over the game to a small band of clubs.

The Football Supporters Association described the plans on Tuesday as a "sugar-coated cyanide pill offered up by billionaire owners who do not understand or care about our football culture".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the project was the "type of backroom dealing that undermines trust in football governance", while the Premier League warned some of the plans would have a "damaging impact on the whole game."

What comes next?

Even in the unlikely event that a majority of Premier League clubs backed the plans, they would not come into force until 2022/23.

However, with such strong opposition, these proposals are likely to just be the starting point for negotiations on how to balance the interests of the biggest clubs with protecting the football pyramid.

The most pressing need is that for a bailout of the EFL -- The chairman of fourth-tier London club Leyton Orient, Nigel Travis, has claimed some clubs will disappear within six weeks without financial support.


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