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Project Big Picture: Good for football or the end of the beautiful game?

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

News of a possible shake-up to professional English football - the biggest change in a generation - came to light on Friday. Here at Nifty, we’ve spent the weekend looking into the proposal and what it could mean for teams across the football league.

The reform plan has been in the works since 2017, spearheaded by Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group as well as the Chairmen of Chelsea, Manchester United and the EFL.

Named ‘Project Big Picture’, the 18-page document proposes how professional football could be restructured alongside a £250 million bailout to Football League Clubs in response to lost revenues from the global pandemic.

In brief, Project Big Picture proposes the following changes:

  • Reduce the Premier League from 20 to 18 clubs.

  • Abolish the League Cup and the Community Shield competitions.

  • Changes to governance voting.

  • Power given to the nine clubs that have remained in the Premier League longest: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Southampton, Tottenham, West Ham.

  • Six of the nine longest-serving clubs votes required for major change approval.

  • Up-front payments of £250m to the EFL and £100m to the Football Association.

  • 25% of Premier League revenue to go to EFL clubs - up from 4%.

  • Removal of parachute payments after Premier League relegation.

  • A later start to the Premier League season.

  • Introduction of a summer Premier League tournament every five years.

  • Salary caps, maximum ticketing prices and a plan for the return of safe standing.

Unsurprisingly, according to The Athletic, the vast majority of EFL clubs are in favour of the proposal. There’s a big disconnect in finances between the Premier League and the rest of the English Football League structure, which has only been exaggerated as a result of behind-closed-doors games due to Coronavirus. The proposal could help address this.

At the end of September, I wrote a blog for Nifty which highlighted how more than 5,000 clubs were at risk of closure due to Covid. The proposed changes within Project Big Picture could not only help lower league clubs survive the crisis, it could also help them to progress in the future by more evenly distributing money from the top-tier of the game.

In addition, there’s proposed changes which I’m sure matchday fans will be in favour of, including a £20 cap on away tickets, subsidised travel to away games and the possibility of a return of safe-standing areas. There could also be the option for Premier League clubs to live stream up to eight matches a season on their own channels, allowing dedicated worldwide fans to strengthen their bond with their teams.

Are these financial gains worth the trade-off for the change in governance?

The most contentious proposal is to supersede the one-member, one-vote system. In the current format, each club is given an equal say, with more than 50 per cent of clubs in favour of a new ruling required to pass it.

The new proposal would give special voting rights to the nine clubs that have spent the most time in top-flight football, with six of those needed to vote in favour of a change for it to be enforced.

By locking in power and control to the ‘big teams’ in the Premier League, it could make the competition so degraded and predictable that it could lose its unique appeal - in turn lowering the broadcasting revenue on which the pyramid depends.

It’s a difficult balancing act and there has long been a clear desire to restructure finances within football. During the 2019/20 season, Championship sides spent 107 per cent of their revenue on wages, leading to operating losses of £382 million across the league. It’s clear something needs to be done but I’m still undecided as to whether this is the right approach.

What do you think of the proposals? An overdue change? Or is this the wrong answer to financial issues in football?

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