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Project Big Picture: Liverpool, Manchester United, EFL lead proposal to restructure the Premier League

Radical overhaul

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As first reported by the Telegraph, and since picked up by all other outlets, there is a proposal in the works for a radical overhaul of the top end of professional football in England, giving the “big” teams more power, but also integrating the Premier League more fully into the very fabric of the English game in both good (financial support) and less good (influence and control) ways. The immediate reaction to it has been, quite predictably, quite negative, but that doesn’t mean it should be immediately dismissed.

The Telegraph’s original report put the (American) owners of Liverpool and Manchester United front and center to help color the reaction with a healthy dose of xenophobia, but subsequent reports have made it quite clear that Rick Parry, current chairman of the EFL and former Premier League (and Liverpool) CEO is not only a vocal proponent but perhaps one of the leading forces driving these potential changes — and not just because of the current economic situation due to the pandemic.

“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.”

-Rick Parry; source: PA Sport via Yahoo!

It’s easy to see why the EFL, the organization controlling divisions 2-4 (Championship, League One, League Two) of professional football in England, would welcome this proposal.

Instead of parachute payments and financial lottery, the Premier League would instead funnel 25% of TV revenue into the lower leagues and grassroots efforts (up from 4-8% currently), in addition to an immediate “rescue fund” of £250m for the EFL and £100m for The FA to help cover losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 6% of Premier League gross revenues would be made available for infrastructure funding, up to £100 per stadium seat annually.

If that sounds generous, that’s because it would come with strings attached — not necessarily direct financial strings, but strings nonetheless. One such example would be an increase in the number of loanees allowed at clubs (unlimited, with up to 4 from any one team), with teams incentivized to play loanees with solidarity payments from future transfers of said players. The proposal would also re-introduce short-term loans (1 month), and the ability to recall loanees not just in transfer windows but in case of a managerial change. Teams would be restricted to a maximum of 15 domestic loans out however.

But the biggest benefit to the plans’ Premier League proponents would be the reduction of the league’s size to 18 (like many European top divisions) from 20, making it slightly easier to stay up and harder to get promoted (2 relegated automatically, +1 maybe through a playoff with the teams 3-5 in the Championship), the shortening of the season, the removal of the League Cup and the Community Shield, the addition of a pre-season friendly cash grab tournament (a la the International Champions Cup), the ability to show up 8 games on in-house pay-per-view (and PL-controlled streaming service is long overdue and this would be a good first step), and perhaps most importantly for the suits, the concentration of voting power in the nine longest-serving Premier League teams (i.e. the Big Six plus the next three).

It’s the latter that has raised the hackles of the mob most, but for teams like Chelsea, this proposal would go a long ways towards increasing competitiveness in Europe, reducing the workload on players, and generating extra revenue. True, none of those are traditional footballing values, but the Premier League was never a “traditional” football product ever since its inception in 1992. This is only the natural evolution of a global entertainment entity, one that also needs to figure out the best way to navigate the current pandemic while also keeping the local supporting structures in place and thriving to a certain extent. The Premier League may be a global phenomenon and money-generating machine, but it still very much needs the local base and the actual football fan to operate well.

“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.”

-Rick Parry; source: Guardian

Other changes would include the Premier League gaining control of EFL TV rights, the creation of an independent women’s professional league (instead of controlled by The FA as it is now), a cap at £20 on away tickets, and the ability to introduce safe-standing. These would all be welcome changes.

For a full list of the proposed changes, you can check out the Telegraph’s original exclusive. It’s important to keep in mind that this is just a proposal, which is far from guaranteed to pass — it would need 14 of the current 20 teams to vote for it. In fact, the Premier League themselves have already released a statement against it, which reads, in part:

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.

-Premier League statement

That said, Parry’s group expects to gain the support of all the Premier League big six (Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs joining Liverpool and Manchester United), plus the next three who would qualify as the “Long-Term Shareholders”, Everton, West Ham, and Southampton, and thus form the controlling group of the new-look Premier League. If they can convince five of the remaining eleven teams to vote ‘yes’, we just might see this proposal, or a form of it, become reality by 2022.

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