By Sam Jenkinson
On the 11th of October 2020, details were leaked of the biggest proposed reshuffle in English football since 1992 when the top 20 clubs split from the rest and formed the Premier League. Almost immediately after the press broke the story of Project Big Picture (PBP), it came under fire from many across the football industry. Henry Winter, the chief football writer for The Times, said “let’s be clear: it’s a blatant power grab, allows The Big 6 to run English football and will lead to a European Super League”. Though in the same tweet Mr Winter gave support, saying that there was “Some good in the… plan”. Similarly, Rick Parry, the chairman of the English Football League (EFL) which is the governing body for the three divisions outside the top-flight, has vocally supported the plan. He argues that “Project Big Picture provides a new beginning which will revitalize the football pyramid at all levels”. So, what exactly does the proposed change entail? Does it represent a positive step forward in developing English football? Or is the future bleaker?
The Proposed Project:
The plan, which has yet to be finalised and was perhaps unfortunate to have been leaked before completion, aims to completely overhaul the way power is allocated in the Premier League, as well as changing some of its logistical aspects. Together with tweaks in some areas of club finance and a rescue package for the EFL, the plan is purported to create a more stable football eco-system. The changes can be separated into two groups; those that are proposed to be implemented right away and those that have a greater focus on the future. Immediately, there will be a £250 million pound bailout for the whole of the EFL in order to compensate for the losses of COVID-19. Furthermore, the Premier League will be reduced from 20 teams to 18, both the EFL Cup and the Community Shield will be scrapped and parachute payments will be ended (payments to teams that are relegated from the Premier league to help them adapt to the lower revenues of the Championship). In terms of the more future-focused changes, the project presents the strategy of donating 25% of Premier League annual TV deals to EFL clubs, as well as 9 clubs – the “Big 6” – Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea along with West Ham, Everton and Southampton receiving more power through increased voting rights on certain issues (currently voting rights are shared equally between all 20 teams).
In reviewing the proposed plan, there are some key positives that can be highlighted. One example is the increase in financial aid given to Championship clubs in the form of a slice of the TV deals. This would work in unison with another positive, namely the end of parachute payments. This ensures the Championships’ finances are more equal and allows lower division clubs to benefit from a greater degree of economic stability.
In 2019, there was a difference of £26.48 million between the average broadcasting revenue of Championship clubs who had parachute payments and those who didn’t. On average, those teams relegated from the Premier League in the 2019/2020 season received £59.1 million more than those in the Championship. As “many clubs earn the majority of their income from the broadcasting deals” it’s clear to see the massive disparity between the revenues within the Championship, let alone compared to the Premier League. As such, the end of parachute payments would create a more equal division.
As well as this, allocating 25% of annual TV deals to the EFL would significantly help all EFL clubs. Manchester United won the Premier League during the final season of the 2010-13 television deal, earning £60.8m for their troubles. The following season Cardiff City finished rock bottom of the Premier League and received £62.1m thanks to a new broadcasting deal brokered with Sky and BT. This really emphasises the exponential growth of broadcasting revenues the Premier League manages to gather every year. Donating a slice of these ever-growing revenues to the second division would ensure that financial issues plaguing the likes of Bury FC, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers don’t rear their ugly heads again.
It must also be said that separate from PBP, a bailout of £250m was agreed between the Premier League and the EFL to help clubs who are facing massive losses in light of the pandemic. This does seem to suggest that while the bailout did not come as a direct result of PBP, the founders of the project had highlighted a realistic and useful point.
In order to address the issues with PBP, it seems important to consider why multi-millionaire owners have only just started to care. Previously, they showed little interest in ensuring smaller clubs were financially stable, with Bury FC seeing expulsion from the football league. It seems that the people behind this project feel that they can use the pandemic to enable the further growth of their respective clubs.
Some have suggested that the reduction of the Premier League to 18 teams and the termination of the EFL Cup has been proposed in order to make space in the schedule for a European Super League, as well as lucrative pre-season matches. The prize money for the EFL Cup “lags significantly behind England’s chief cup competition”, whereas a European competition with a large broadcasting deal would offer considerable financial benefits for the bigger English clubs. For them, there appears to be little financial incentive. However, a decent string of results in a cup run can result in substantial TV revenues for the rest of the clubs in the competition. It seems that the creators of PBP are only prepared to support the whole football pyramid when it suits them.
Perhaps the most concerning part of the project is the increase in power for certain Premier League clubs. As we have explored, these clubs seem to focus predominately on their profit margins rather than the sustainability of the football pyramid. The people behind the project understand they cannot force these ideas onto English football, so they have used the pandemic to try and gain the power to do so in the future, while also implementing some preliminary ideas as part of the ‘deal’.
A game of two halves:
What becomes clear when we consider the positives in tandem with the problems of PBP, is that underpinning it all is an unhealthy bargaining strategy. The founders have tried to use COVID and the financial issues faced by the EFL as leverage in a deal which increases their power and profit-making potential. Admittedly, there is a need for change in English Football, but is this project really the answer?
 Henry Winter, Twitter Post, October 2020, 1:51 PM, https://mobile.twitter.com/henrywinter/status/1315273911454633984?s=21
 Jack de Menezes, “‘Project Big Picture’ condemned by government as EFL chief Rick Parry launches defence of secret talks”, Independent, October 2020, 2:59 PM, https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news/premier-league-project-big-picture-efl-rick-parry-liverpool-man-united-government-b967130.html
 David Lange, “Premier League and Championship clubs’ average revenues in 2019, by stream (in million euros)”, June 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1022329/premier-league-and-chapmionship-clubs-average-revenues/#:~:text=The%20statistic%20shows%20the%20Premier,in%20revenues%20from%20UEFA%20broadcasting.
 Daniel Geey, Done Deal. (Great Britain: Bloomsbury Sport, 2019) 96
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 James Olley, “Premier League agrees £250m EFL bailout”, ESPN, December 2020, https://www.espn.co.uk/football/english-premier-league/story/4252435/premier-league-agrees-to-250m-efl-bailout-package
 Charlie Rowan, “Bury Football Club – Is this the end? A football story”, The Sporting Blog, June 2020, https://thesporting.blog/blog/bury-football-club-football-story
 Sutherland, “Project Big Picture: What is it and how would it work?”
 Ryan Kelly, “When is the Carabao Cup 2021 final? Teams, TV channel, prize money & everything you need to know”, GOAL, January 2021, https://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/when-is-the-carabao-cup-2021-final-teams-tv-channel-prize/1pratogbyw41x148tcrolhh7hz#:~:text=Carabao%20Cup%20final.-,What%20is%20the%20Carabao%20Cup%20prize%20money%3F,%C2%A325%2C000%20(%2434k)%20each.
 Andrew Georgeson, “Joe Dunne discusses the importance of a cup run for Cambridge United”, Cambridgeshire Live, August 2018, https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/sport/joe-dunne-discusses-importance-cup-15025308
 Sky Sports, “Gary Neville reveals Manifesto for Change with calls for independent regulation in English football”, October 2020, https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12104549/gary-neville-reveals-manifesto-for-change-with-calls-for-independent-regulation-in-english-football