The plan aimed at a restructuring of the English football pyramid including changes to the way finances are distributed.
All 20 clubs in the Premier League have unanimously rejected Project Big Picture, which was lobbied intensely by Liverpool, Manchester United, and Rick Parry who leads the English Football League (EFL). This initiative had the potential to comprehensively transform the functioning of English football, the details of which will be elaborated in the following article.
Reportedly, the plan has been in the making for the last three years. However, the finer intricacies of the same were revealed on October 2020.
What is Project Big Picture?
Numerous proposals are tabled under this scheme. Primarily, the number of clubs in the Premier League will be reduced from 20 to 18. 90 clubs will compete in the four tiers of English football, as the three divisions below the Premiership will comprise of 24 teams each. Two outfits will be directly relegated from the top-flight and promoted from the Championship each.
The side that finishes at the 16th spot in the Premier League will be pitted against the third, fourth, and fifth-placed clubs from the second-division in a traditional four-team playoff at the end of the season. The EFL Cup (known as the Carabao Cup) and the season-opening Community Shield will be scrapped. The former will allow teams to have a longer break between otherwise congested fixtures during the season. The latter will ensure that the league season commences in late August, allowing clubs to participate in lucrative overseas pre-season tournaments.
What does it have to offer for the lower-tier clubs?
Several club owners in the lower divisions of English football have suffered financially due the COVID-19 situation. Matches are being played behind closed doors, which have blocked the major revenue influx of such teams. Project Big Picture endorses a one-off relief package of 250 million pounds provided by the Premier League to 72 EFL clubs.
This will enable those clubs financially and become secure on the monetary front in these testing times. Furthermore, another 100 million pounds has been pledged to the Football Association (FA) to deal with the losses that they have suffered in the past few months. According to this plan, the Premier League and the EFL will sell their broadcasting rights together as a package. 25 per cent of the media net revenue from the top-tier will be disbursed down to the EFL, whereas currently the lower tiers receive only four per cent of the same.
How do fans stand to benefit from these deals?
It is suggested that six per cent of Premier League’s gross revenues will be set aside for upgrading and improvement of stadiums of teams across the top four divisions of English football. Furthermore, away tickets have been proposed to be capped at £20 in addition to subsidization of away travel too. Moreover, eight per cent of the total capacity of any stadium will be allocated to the travelling sets of supporters. To bring back the idea of safe standing is also being pondered upon, but it will perhaps be subject to the government’s approval.
What do the prominent clubs gain from this overhaul?
The whole revamp apparently aims to present greater control and influence to the big-six clubs of the Premier League. As of now, there is a ‘one club, one vote’ policy in place. Any major reform in the league can take place only after the approval of 14 out of the 20 clubs in the Premiership. Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, West Ham United, and Everton are the current longest-serving clubs in the top-flight. Project Big Picture attempts to provide them special voting rights. According to Reuters, such a move will enable these clubs to veto any ownership change of any outfit, approve broadcast and media rights deals, elect or remove the chief executive and make many more such key decisions.
Six of the above nine clubs will have to agree for any remodeling to take place. More importantly, all Premier League clubs will be allowed to sell exclusive rights of eight live matches a season directly to the viewers through their own channels. Currently, a majority of the league’s international broadcasting rights are distributed equally to the 20 involved teams. Sides such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea possess a vast fan-base across the world and they can avail greater benefits if they are permitted to independently market their respective games. This will mean that they can escape the uniform dissemination of broadcast revenue too.
The response so far
Groups from different quarters of the football ecosystem have been wary of the implementation of Project Big Picture. In fact, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) Boris Johnson has clarified his stance on this issue too. “It is clear that this proposal does not command support throughout the Premier League, and it is exactly this type of backroom dealing that undermines trust in football governance,” a spokesperson appearing for the leader asserted. Arguably, this initiative seemed like an effort to create a lopsided power-distribution system in the Premier League in the lure of a relief package to the EFL.
“All 20 Premier League clubs today unanimously agreed that Project Big Picture will not be endorsed or pursued by the Premier League, or The FA,” the Premier League statement read.
“Further, Premier League Shareholders agreed to work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football, consulting with all stakeholders to ensure a vibrant, competitive and sustainable football pyramid,” it added.
However, a financial package for the clubs from the third and fourth divisions will still be made available by the Premiership.