‘Project Big Picture’ rejected by Premier League

The radical overhaul of English football proposed by Liverpool and Manchester United labelled “Project Big Picture” was unanimously rejected at a Premier League shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

Representatives of the 20 clubs met to discuss the future of the game after details of a bailout package to help the English Football League (EFL) offered in return for supporting a series of changes to rules and competitions were leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

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While the overarching “Project Big Picture” was dismissed, the Premier League did take a notable step forward in helping EFL clubs avoid bankruptcy resulting from COVID-19 by agreeing an extra £50 million in grants and interest-free loans to League One and League Two. Talks with Championship clubs are ongoing, as are wider discussions about restructuring the game at the highest level.

“All 20 Premier League clubs today unanimously agreed that Project Big Picture will not be endorsed or pursued by the Premier League, or The FA,” read a statement from the Premier League.

“Further, Premier League Shareholders agreed to work together as a 20-club collective on a strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football, consulting with all stakeholders to ensure a vibrant, competitive and sustainable football pyramid. Clubs will work collaboratively, in an open and transparent process, focusing on competition structure, calendar, governance and financial sustainability. This project has the full support of The FA and will include engagement with all relevant stakeholders including fans, Government and, of course, the EFL.”

The backlash has been widespread, with EFL chairman Rick Parry facing calls to resign, and today the Premier League clubs outside the traditional Big Six voiced their concerns amid accusations of a power grab by the top sides.

There were several elements of the proposal that encountered significant opposition, chief among them the plan to give 25% of all future Premier League revenue to the EFL and the abolition of the top flight’s “one club, one vote” system.

This voting system is viewed as integral to maintaining the competitiveness of the Premier League as regulations cannot currently be changed without a two-thirds majority among the 20 clubs.

However, Liverpool and United are among the top sides to argue they generate greater interest in the league and attract a larger share of the global audience than many of their rivals, believing their influence should be proportionate to their popularity.

The government have repeatedly refused to intervene to help EFL clubs. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden, speaking at a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing this morning, labeled the proposal as a “distraction” from urgent funding issues lower down the ladder.

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ESPN FC’s Ian Darke and Don Hutchison react to a busy month ahead for Liverpool in the Prem and UCL.

Amid concerns that around six EFL clubs could face bankruptcy in the next few weeks, Dowden insisted, “I have had assurance from the EFL that they have the resources” to avoid that outcome, presumably reflecting the advancement in talks with the Premier League.

The Premier League had originally offered a £250m bailout in return for supporting key reform measures, initially including things such as relaxing visa rules for foreign players post-Brexit but since escalating to “Project Big Picture.”

ESPN reported on Friday that private investment fund TPG Capital had offered the EFL funds in return for a 25% equity stake in the lower leagues, secured against future television income.

That offer has been rejected with talks set to continue between the Premier League and the EFL to find a solution.

FA chairman Greg Clarke claimed he walked away from finance and restructuring talks in the spring when “a breakaway league [was] mooted as a threat.”

It remains to be seen whether Liverpool and United will attempt to pursue a breakaway league more aggressively, but Wednesday’s meeting suggests they currently face an uphill battle to garner enough support.

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