Football clubs across the country are struggling to make ends meet, thanks to a continued ban on supporters in the stands.
So a proposed £350million rescue package from the top teams looks like just what’s needed to stop the landscape of English football being altered forever.
But look beyond the big numbers included in the proposal, which is led by foreign-owned clubs Liverpool and Manchester United, and you’ll find just another plan to cement inequality at the top of the game.
‘Project Big Picture’ would constitute a wide-ranging shake-up of professional football that, on the surface at least, looks to close the vast financial gap between the Premier League and the rest.
As well as an immediate cash injection to plug the gaps left by matches that have been either scrapped entirely or played behind closed doors, the scheme suggests sharing 25% of the top flight’s future TV revenue with the Championship, League One and League Two.
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Considering the broadcast rights were most recently sold for over £9billion, that would be a significant increase on the £140million that the Premier League currently contributes in so-called ‘Solidarity Payments’.
Of course, this uncharacteristic generosity would come with some serious caveats. A newly crowned cabal of ‘long-term shareholders’ – which includes ‘the big six’ clubs Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, plus Everton, Southampton and West Ham – would get special voting rights, giving them extra power to pass or veto future decisions that could affect the whole game.
The country’s bigger clubs have previous for this. The Premier League only exists as a result of a breakaway that was designed to funnel more money and influence to the more well-supported clubs – the ones that already benefit from increased gate receipts, commercial revenues and, as a result, prize money.
And what’s wrong with that, you might ask. If they’re the ones that command the eyeballs, shouldn’t they be remunerated accordingly? But West Ham were almost relegated last season and it wasn’t all that long ago that Southampton were playing in League One.
Championship club Blackburn Rovers have won the Premier League more recently than four of the nine proposed long-term shareholder clubs. Meanwhile, Southampton and West Ham have never been champions.
So, quite memorably, have Leicester City, who are currently in the Premier League but haven’t been put forward as long term shareholders. It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Project Big Picture’ has supposedly been in the works since 2017 – the year after the Foxes’ against-all-odds triumph. The message here is quite clear: never again can a club from outside the elite be allowed to gatecrash the party.
Another condition of the proposal would be to trim the Premier League down from 20 to 18 teams, and scrap Parachute Payments – the wrong-headed system that helps clubs relegated from the Premier League continue to pay their players top-flight wages, despite the squad demonstrably not being good enough to earn them.
The removal of Parachute Payments makes a lot of sense, both in terms of better distribution of that money and improving the competitive balance of the lower leagues. But taking this cash and chucking it at the problem isn’t the answer, particularly with Championship clubs’ tendency to recklessly splurge on wages and agents’ fees in the chase for promotion.
Combine that with the reduced size of the Premier League and football’s promised land starts to look like even more of a closed shop. Even those that do secure or retain their seats at the top table will have their position as second-class members enshrined in law.
Where would the proposal leave the likes of Sheffield United, Brighton or Burnley? Even under the current arrangements these sensibly run clubs, with large local fanbases, start each season just hoping to stay up.
With more power and money being hoarded at the top, their dreams of ever challenging for any honours would pretty much go up in smoke, especially with the League Cup also being scrapped as part of the plans.
We’ve seen the big six use their status to take a greater share of the available resources in the past, successfully pushing for a greater share of international TV cash back in 2018.
‘Project Big Picture’ has its benefits and the potentially transformative redistribution of TV money shouldn’t just be dismissed, but the last thing an already skewed sport needs is to concentrate even more power with the game’s 1%.
Fortunately, even some of the Premier League clubs that would benefit from the plan have expressed their unease about it since it was unveiled, and those outside of the select group would be very unlikely to vote it through.
Using the current state of emergency as a bribe to push it through shows just how greedy and out-of-touch those at the top of the pyramid really are.