Earlier this month, Premier League teams unveiled ‘Project Big Picture’ – a £250 million bailout proposal for Championship clubs that redistributed TV revenue, 25% of which would go to the EFL. In return, Manchester United and Liverpool, who headed the proposal, requested that the Premier League’s 9 longest-serving teams should acquire greater voting power. This would have meant that, in order to change, allow or block future rule alterations only 6 of the 9 selected Premier League clubs would have had to vote in favour of these measures, with the other 11 teams exerting a much-reduced influence.
Project Big Picture felt very much like an opportunistic power grab. By increasing their broadcasting rights over their own games and their voting power, the big clubs would have total control over smaller teams, able to suffocate them at any moment with their funding.
Fewer games and competitions would limit the chance for fans to see world class stars play a game against their local club. It would also significantly decrease the likelihood of huge cup upsets, which have prolonged the now largely false sentimental idea in the English football pyramid that anyone can beat anyone.
The Premier League hasn’t always been the best league in the world, but has prided itself and branded itself with being the most competitive league in the world. 10 years ago, this might have been true but in the past decade the ‘big 6’ have exerted a stranglehold over the top positions in the league, with the financial chasm between them and the teams below ever-growing.
Many in the media seemed shocked by the new proposal. But what did we honestly expect? Sheikh Mansour didn’t buy Manchester City because of his love for Shaun Goater and the historic FA Cup victory of 1956. Roman Abramovic didn’t buy Chelsea Football Club as a little passion project on the side, aiming to bring hope and joy to West London. These are opportunistic billionaires whose goal is, and will always be, profit. The media’s surprise is in itself surprising.
The Premier League should not even be responsible for supporting EFL clubs. However, because of the Government’s refusal to support one of the most important industries in the UK and the lack of a plan from the FA, we have reached a point whereby, to date, the only solution offered has been that of self-centred billionaires.
However, despite the recent rejection of the proposal, future negotiations seem likely to be tense. Lately, any interactions between the Premier League and the EFL have come with the overhanging threat that if the top sides are denied their way they could go off and form a ‘super league’ with other European giants.
Project Big Picture has exposed the conflict between business and sentiment that has become part and parcel of English football.
In the end, some version of this proposal is inevitable. Its aim is to formalise a structure that already exists, a transition from de facto to de jure that football is very reluctant to accept.