On Wednesday, the Premier League overwhelmingly rejected a reform package proposed by the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United. The package, called Project Big Picture, would have made major changes to the structure of the Premier League and English football in general. Project Big Picture called for a reduction of the size of the Premier League from 20 to 18 clubs, a rescue package of around $450 million for the lower tiers of the English football pyramid and a major shift in voting power to the biggest clubs in the Premier League.
While there are elements of the plan that would have benefited the English game, the overall effect would have been harmful and Premier League clubs were right to reject the plan. The plan represents a blatant power grab by England’s biggest clubs and an attempt at placation by sending smaller clubs some money. The Premier League has allowed each club to have a single and equal vote in all matters since its inception, and Project Big Picture would change that drastically.
But even the less controversial aspects of the plan would still lessen the competitiveness of the Premier League, and would thus harm English football as a whole. For instance, the reduction of the size of the Premier League makes it more difficult for lower-league clubs to make it into England’s top division because there are fewer spots available. The plan would also take away an automatic promotion spot from the EFL Championship, England’s second tier. Under Project Big Picture, only the bottom two Premier League clubs would be automatically relegated. The third-to-last team would enter a playoff with team three through five in the EFL Championship, leaving open the possibility of survival for that club. This would both make it more difficult for Championship clubs to advance to the top flight and would lessen the excitement around the Premier League’s relegation race.
Another aspect of the plan would send around $450 million to the lower leagues to help out with losses suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a good and necessary gesture — everyone agrees that the football pyramid is worth saving and that the rich EPL should pitch in to help save smaller clubs from going under. But the plan also calls for 25 percent of the Premier League’s annual television revenue to be sent to the lower leagues each year. Perhaps Liverpool and Manchester United need to be reminded that not every Premier League club is as rich as they are. Many smaller clubs in the Premier League suffered heavy losses during the pandemic, and they too need the television revenue to stay healthy. It would be hard on clubs like Burnley and Fulham if that much money were to be deprived of them. Even Tottenham had to take out a 175-million-pound loan from the UK government to cover losses suffered as a result of the pandemic. Sending that much money down to the lower leagues is both unnecessary on a permanent basis and hurts the clubs currently in the Premier League.
The Premier League, upon rejection of Project Big Picture, has vowed to hold long, extensive talks about making reforms to the English game. It absolutely should. The bigger clubs definitely have a legitimate gripe about the number of fixtures they play in a single season. They make a good suggestion when they call for the end of the EFL League Cup, a useless tournament that nobody cares about anymore. But with Project Big Picture, the big clubs have reached way too far. They are, in essence, telling smaller clubs, “Here’s some money, now go away.” They seek to consolidate power and leave smaller clubs no chance to compete on their level. Project Big Picture would have destroyed any sort of parity within the Premier League, which is what makes the EPL the most-watched and most entertaining football league in the entire world. The preservation of the Premier League’s competitiveness must be the top priority in any future talks, and all parties involved need to remember that.