English football dodged a bullet when the verdict regarding Project Big Picture was announced. Even though the project was vetoed, it is still more than worthwhile to expose and examine the greed and underhand intentions of those at the top of the pyramid – namely Liverpool and Manchester United.
On the face of it, Project Big Picture seemed favourable for the entire EFL; not only because of the £250 million right now, but also because the money distributed between the three tiers of the EFL from the Premier League’s broadcasting annual income would have risen by 17%.
However, when you dig a little bit deeper, you begin to realise that Project Big Picture was just a ploy from the notoriously greedy big boys to gain even more clout and wealth – even if they were willing to part with contributions to the rescue package and the £100 million gift to the FA to provide funding for non-league, grassroots and women’s football.
At the heart of Liverpool and Manchester United’s vision was a change to voting rights. At present, Premier League clubs each have one equally-weighted vote and fourteen votes are required to pass a proposal. This was all set to change, though, as the ‘nine long-term stakeholder clubs’ would have been prioritised on certain matters, with six votes in favour only being needed.
Effectively, this would have enabled the traditional ‘big six’ to enact the change they wanted since they couldn’t be challenged by enough opposition. For example, a shake-up in relation to the distribution of television rights was outlined as part of Project Big Picture meaning that eight games per season could be sold on a club’s own platform. Unlike many other leagues, matches are currently sold as bundles and then the money is distributed equally which goes a long way in levelling the playing field and maintaining the Premier League’s competitive edge.
The upshot of this would have been the widening of the economic disparity between the top six and the rest of the league as the international television revenues of the smaller teams are driven by the global appeal of the top six and as such, their television audiences would dramatically diminish. If this model had been a success, the top six may have pulled together to push it through permanently due to their concentrated power.
It was quite apparent that Project Big Picture would address the issue of domestic fixture congestion by reducing the number of sides in the top division to eighteen and abolishing the League Cup. Amid reports that a European Super League is on the horizon, people quickly realised that those behind the proposals were attempting to facilitate expansion at the expense of English football as a whole.
Countless clubs at various levels are still awaiting any crumb of recourse to stay afloat in the midst of COVID-19. £250 million is estimated to completely compensate for the absence of income from all relevant revenue streams and an amount close to that figure simply must reach those clubs in dire straits urgently. This is now especially the case owing to the government’s stance on not allowing crowds to return to stadiums for the foreseeable future.
Given that the furlough scheme is no longer a viable option, it is now the Premier League’s duty to come to the aid of the lower-league. According to the 2020 Deloitte Football Money League, eleven of the top thirty ranking clubs were Premier League sides and the top six had a combined revenue of £3.4 billion. With this in mind, those twenty teams which comprise the biggest and wealthiest league in the world appear to be the salvation and there really is no excuse.
EFL chairman and ironically, former chief executive of Liverpool, Rick Parry, was hugely supportive of Project Big Picture which either reveals his naivety or his unsuitability for the job. It is Parry’s responsibility to act as a guardian for the integrity of English football and unfortunately, he has proved that he is unfit to fulfil that particular duty.
There have actually been calls for Parry’s resignation according to an anonymous Premier League club board member who spoke to Sky Sports and claimed that fourteen top flight clubs had lost faith in the EFL chairman. The consensus was that Parry had ‘exceeded his authority’ in lobbying for something which was purely a ‘power grab’.
Football below the top flight is still true to the principles on which the game is traditionally based – reasonable ticket prices, camaraderie amongst supporters and that close relationship between club and fanbase. We’ve seen the genuinely devastating impact on the community of a club going under when Bury were kicked-out of the football league last year, and a repeat of this is a very real possibility.
Of course, the rescue package from Project Big Picture would have been an effective solution, but in truth, it was merely a sweetener in a transparent attempt to exploit a desperate situation and render the top six untouchable in financial and sporting terms. All that can be forgotten however, as long as the Premier League acknowledges that it’s time to remember its roots.