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Project Big Picture is (Probably) Dead

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A smaller loan than the EFL was seeking is the immediate outcome after Premier League sides shot down the plan to reform English football.

The Official Nike Premier League Match Ball with Club Shirts Photo by Visionhaus

Project Big Picture, at least as proposed by Liverpool and Manchester United and backed by the English Football League comprising the Championship, League One, and League Two, is dead today after an emergency meeting of the Premier League.

“All 20 Premier League clubs today unanimously agreed that ‘Project Big Picture’ will not be endorsed or pursued,” read a statement from the league released shortly after the clubs met via teleconference.

“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.”

As of now, the only step that will be undertaken in support of the EFL is a £50M rescue package that will be made available to League One and Two clubs judged to be at risk of going under due to the coronavirus pandemic.

EFL chairman Rick Parry had previously been seeking around £250M in immediate financial assistance in order to ensure England’s lower league’s could survive, and today’s relief package falls well short of that—though the Premier League says further discussions will be held:

“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.”

What that means is difficult to decipher at the moment, with anything from further loans to prop up the lower levels of the pyramid—levels that were in dire financial straights even before coronavirus—to more robust reform alternatives that could include elements from Project Big Picture.

The problem with the former is that while it might be the easiest to implement, short-term loans for the EFL are simply putting a bandage on a major wound and will do nothing to fix the fundamental, underlying financial issues faced by clubs in the lower leagues.

The problem with the latter is that for something including the aspects of Project Big Picture people generally supported to be undertaken would require a major redirection of money to the lower leagues through some form of revenue sharing—and to get that, the Premier League sides that rightly see themselves as the drivers of league revenues would demand concessions in return.

In the case of Project Big Picture, 25% of broadcast revenues currently worth £575M per year were on offer for the lower leagues but the price—essentially giving the top six control of English football—was deemed unpalatable.

Whether there’s a viable compromise to be found could now determine the future of football in England. If there is, a watered-down version of Project Big Picture might still be on the way to provide financial stability to the lower levels of the pyramid. If not, the status quo will remain in the longer term while in the present assistance to the EFL will likely begin and end at short-term loans.