By Jonathan Copping, Lawyer, Stone King LLP, London, UK
When news broke that a plan, initially devised by Liverpool and subsequently supported by Manchester United, involved radically changing the landscape of English football, the news was met with Football: English Premier League’s ‘Project Big Picture’ shelved for now
a mixture of frustration, anger and interest.
Less than two weeks later and the ambitious plan has been scrapped having been rejected by various parties, including many English Premier League clubs that might have ended up benefiting from the plan - at least, in the short term.
The genesis of the plan evolves around certain Premier League clubs, chiefly Liverpool and Manchester United, wishing to have greater control over their finances and be able to boost revenues in more lucrative ways.
The key components of ‘Project Big Picture’ are:
The Premier League is a global brand and some of its most famous clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester United, are some of the best supported sports teams in the world, who can sell out sports stadiums across the world, whilst playing friendly matches and attracting huge commercial revenues from corporations all over the world in a vast array of commercial sectors.
The plan, as put forward, would have given special status for nine current Premier League clubs, the current ‘big six’ (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur), as well as Everton, West Ham and Southampton. The intention was that major changes could be made by only six of those nine clubs. At present, any changes to the Premier League need to be passed by a majority of 14 clubs.
Interestingly, some leading figures, within the English Football League, provided support for the plan. Rick Parry, the English Football League Chairman, has been a vocal advocate of the plan, having stated on behalf of the English Football League:
“We genuinely think that this is in the best interests of the game as a whole."
The Premier League itself strongly opposed the plan and the details, which were leaked without the Premier League’s knowledge, caused particular embarrassment to the League.
In response to the leaking of the plan, the Premier League released a statement, in which it stated, among other things:
“Both the Premier League and the FA support a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game, including its competition structures, calendar and overall financing particularly in light of the effects of Covid-19.
Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.”
The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, who is responsible for the UK Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport stated in an interview on BBC Breakfast News:
“Now is not the right time. The challenge facing football is ensuring particularly the EFL has the resources to enable its clubs to survive. This deal does not command support throughout the Premier League at all.
There are the resources there. I have to say that if they can't get together and work together to sort this out, we will have to return to what we promised in our manifesto, which is a fan-led review of football governance because I think many fans will be concerned about what they are reading today."
Whilst it appears that ‘Project Big Picture’ has been rejected for now, it is likely that it will now speed up the coming together of all stakeholders in professional football to devise a plan that works for all parties.
The clubs at the top of English Football have been increasing their financial revenues for years and there has been talk of a ‘European Super League’ involving some of those clubs. Such an idea has never seriously taken off, but the view still remains that those clubs want more control over their finances and schedules.
With Covid-19 forcing all English professional football matches to be played in empty stadiums and the consequent drastic effect that is having on clubs’ finances, particularly lower league clubs, now is maybe a more important time than ever to look at how the English football pyramid can be reshaped for the benefit of all stakeholders.