Manchester — Plans for major changes to the structure and finances of English football, known as “Project Big Picture”, have caused a furious debate. Ahead of a series of meetings this week, here is a Q&A look at the main issues.                  

What is “Project Big Picture”? It is a series of proposals put together by the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United along with Rick Parry, the chair of the English Football League (EFL). The document has been worked on for around three years but came to light on Sunday when published by The Telegraph.

How would the Premier League change? Among many proposals, the standout is that the league would shrink from 20 teams to 18. The bottom two teams would be relegated to the second-tier Championship and be replaced annually by the top two teams in that division.

In addition, there would be an annual four-team playoff for a place in the top flight involving the third, fourth and fifth-placed teams in the Championship and the 16th-placed Premier League team.

All changes would take place for the 2022/2023 season. In order to get to 18 teams, the prior season would probably see four teams relegated and only two promoted. The League Cup and preseason Community Shield would be scrapped and the season start later in August, allowing a longer window for lucrative tours.

Is this the Premier League’s “Covid-19 bailout” for the EFL? The plan has not been produced by or agreed to by the Premier League but it does contain a proposed “rescue fund” with £250m earmarked as an immediate one-off payment to the 72 EFL clubs and another £100m for the Football Association (FA).

It also envisages a rise in the annual “solidarity payments” from the Premier League to the EFL from 4% of media net revenues to 25%. The idea is also for the Premier League to sell the EFL’s broadcast rights as part of a package.

So where is all that money coming from? The proposal also calls for an end to “parachute payments” to clubs relegated from the Premier League. They are calculated as a share of the broadcasting rights and, though they vary, in the last two years the payment has averaged around £250m. Having two fewer Premier League clubs would also reduce the amount shared out from the collective pot.

Would the Big Six get a bigger share of the TV cash?  Yes, almost certainly. There are several options being floated but the principle behind them is an increase in the share based on “merit” — a weighting based on league position, clearly a good idea for those teams who frequently finish in the top six.

Why are critics calling it a “power grab”?  Because the project also calls for “special voting rights” for the nine clubs that have the longest continuous membership of the Premier League. This marks a break with the system of “one club, one vote” in place since the league’s founding in 1992.

Those nine clubs currently would comprise the Big Six of Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, along with Southampton, West Ham United and Everton — the three other longest-serving top-flight clubs.

The nine would have the power to elect or remove a new CEO, approve broadcast and media rights deals, handle cost control rules, block changes to television revenue distribution and even veto any new club owner approved by the Premier League board.

They could exercise all those powers, regardless of the opinions of other Premier League clubs. In order to carry out those powers, six of the nine would need to agree to a given measure, which critics have suggested is a de facto handing of power to the Big Six.

Why would the smaller clubs vote for this? It currently requires 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs to pass any proposal or policy and it is hard to imagine that the smaller clubs would vote for less power and a smaller share of the revenue.

However, it is likely that the proposals will be negotiated and changes could be made to help bring more clubs on board and help the Big Six find the eight clubs they need to turn their plan into a reality. The FA also has a “golden share” in the Premier League which would allow it to block the changes, should it feel they damage the game.

What happens if it is rejected? If the Premier League clubs vote against the plan then all manner of scenarios come into play, and for EFL clubs there is the risk of further delay and uncertainty over the “bailout”. For the Big Six, the question is whether they will simply accept the smaller clubs thwarting their project.

Some media reports have stated that Parry has suggested to the big clubs that they simply walk out of the Premier League and become the Big Six in the Championship — which would effectively cut the Premier League off.

When asked, Parry refused to comment on that suggestion. The Premier League clubs and the FA Council are both due to meet this week.


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