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Leaked documents propose massive English football reform, aid for EFL clubs

The document, spearheaded by Manchester United and Liverpool, would provide a raft of reforms and aid for clubs in the EFL, but at a significant cost.

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West Ham United v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The Daily Telegraph (£) today dropped some bombshell news about a proposed reform of English football in the top four tiers, spearheaded by Manchester United and Liverpool, that would bail out and stabilize the EFL at the cost of consolidating power within the biggest clubs in the Premier League.

The list of reforms and changes, dubbed “Project Big Picture,” are vast and comprehensive, and include, but are by no means restricted to, the following:

  • An immediate cash bailout of £350m to the EFL, Football Association, Women’s Super League, and FA Women’s Championship for revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic, shutdown of football, and subsequent reopening behind close doors
  • Future revenue sharing from the Premier League to the top four tiers of football for ongoing infrastructure and development
  • Revised profit sharing mechanism for television rights, but with assurances that there would NOT a larger share going to the clubs at the top of the table
  • Reduction of the Premier League to 18 clubs, and increase of Championship, League One and League Two to 24 clubs
  • Relegation of bottom two Premier League clubs each season, with 16th-placed Premier League club playing in promotion/relegation tournament with 3rd-5th place Championship clubs
  • Elimination of parachute payments to clubs relegated from the Premier League
  • Elimination of the League Cup and Charity Shield
  • Support for expanded Champions League tournament
  • Establishment of an independent women’s football league outside the auspices of the FA and Premier League

Many of these proposals, although radical compared to what is currently in place, are net positives, would help ensure the survival of clubs in the lower leagues, and would put these same clubs and leagues in a healthier financial position going forward. However, the proposals would come at a steep cost and would benefit the biggest and best Premier League clubs as well. The proposals also include:

  • Elimination of the “one club one vote” and 14-vote thresholds for implementing rule changes in the Premier League in favor of majority fiat by the nine clubs with with the longest tenure in the Premier League. Currently, this would include the so-called Big Six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) plus West Ham, Everton, and Southampton. A majority of six out of nine votes would be required for passage of rule changes, without further approval from the other clubs in the league.
  • These nine clubs would rule over the rest of the Premier League “in every aspect” and would be able to play in a hypothetically expanded Champions League.
  • Domestic media rights to the Premier League and EFL would be collectively negotiated by the Premier League.
  • Premier League clubs would have the right to sell up to eight league matches per season direct to fans on their own digital streaming platforms.
  • Premier League leadership could in theory veto an ownership change at another Premier League club

It’s a double-edged sword. EFL and lower-league clubs have been begging for a governmental bail-out of English football, suggesting that many clubs could fold entirely due to continued operation with no gate income as the matches are being played behind closed doors. This proposal, which it should be stressed is still very much a proposal but is expected to gain support from the rest of the Big Six, would provide a more equitable financial structure to the top four divisions, but at the cost of a pretty major consolidation of power at the top of the Premier League. Basically, everyone gets help, but the rich get even richer and more powerful.

The Telegraph notes that this proposal is being supported by EFL Chairman Rick Parry, and has been in development for the past two seasons, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the financial toll associated with the pandemic has been a major factor for trying to fix football for a new era going forward.

It’s clear that changes of this magnitude would likely meet some resistance, especially with other Premier League clubs. These clubs would lose a seat at the table when it comes to negotiating rule changes and would be subject to whatever the “ruling council” of Premier League clubs decide. However, it is gaining support because the alternative is an attrition of smaller clubs that do not have the financial resources to survive this current COVID-related crisis.

As a Tottenham supporter, I am a bit torn. Over the past number of years, Spurs have raised themselves into a position where they now sitting at the “big boy’s table” and will have a significant voice into how the league is run going forward. That’s pretty powerful. On the other hand, I often have struggled with some of the decisions that Spurs have made with their power and do not have the full confidence that this level of change would be used magnanimously by this new so-called “ruling council” of the biggest and most powerful clubs. One only has to look at La Liga to see what can happen when the balance of power is shifted towards the biggest clubs in the league.

At its best, “Project Big Picture” could genuinely save football from what has become a true crisis. It would also be the most transformational change in English football since the formation of the Premier League. It’s not hard to see how, if these changes are made, that a little less of the promised benevolence from the new “ruling council” could further stratify the league structure. On the other hand, it’s possible that a dramatic change is needed to not only save many smaller clubs from going under, but also to give the EFL and Premier League a shake-up that some have said has been needed for a long time. This proposal, which is not certain to pass of yet, may be a deal with the devil, but one that is needed because the alternative is so much worse.

This is by no means a done deal, but it does seem likely that some sort of reform is coming, especially if the UK government continues to hold back on a large financial bailout of the EFL. What do you think of the proposal? Put your reactions in the comments.