THE BIG FOOTBALL POWER-GRAB OF THE CENTURY, A NON-LEAGUE FAN’S TAKE?

By Darren Tinmouth, (@Dazzla84_SSFC), http://www.claretandbluepixels.wordpress.com

We have reached the nadir. The point where England’s biggest clubs (otherwise known as the ‘big six’) are seeing a chance to flex their muscles and use their status to bring about changes that could ultimately change football in Britain forever, at least in my opinion.

On Sunday (October 11th), the Sunday Telegraph’s chief football writer Sam Wallace wrote apiece that pretty much explains that the Premier League’s biggest and richest clubs (albeit mainly Manchester United and Liverpool) are looking to bring about changes that in the grand scheme of things, would hand ultimate power to a select few.

How is that coming about? Well according to Wallace, the American owners at both Liverpool and United are looking to help the Premier League provide a lucrative financial package to stricken EFL clubs and the FA.

The proposal (dubbed ‘Project Big Picture’), would see an immediate cash bailout of £250million to the EFL and a ‘cash gift’ of £100million to the FA. Also, in future, the EFL would receive 25% of all future TV deals which if the current TV deal is anything to go by (both domestic and worldwide) would equal just over £2billion. As a result, the current system of what are known as ‘Parachute Payments’ would be scrapped.

A GOOD DEAL? READ THE SMALL PRINT

That on the face of it is the sort of offer the EFL would be wanting to grab with both hands, £2billion over 3 years is a crazy amount of money that would enable the EFL to help support all 72 of its clubs, and money that could also filter down the pyramid too, benefitting the whole game. A great deal isn’t it?

Well no. Why is that? Well this is the world of business, one cannot expect to give without getting something in return, and it’s that little titbit of small print that is (in my opinion) getting the flak it deserves.

What are these proposals the Glazers and FSG (the owners at Man Utd and Liverpool respectively) are looking for? Well strap yourselves in, because these are pretty substantial.

  • THE VOTING STRUCTURE: Basically, the biggest clubs are not fans of the current structure of one club one vote meaning that for example Liverpool have the same voting power as Burnley or Fulham with proposals needing a 70% majority (or 14 clubs) to agree in order for measures to pass. Instead, they want to implement a new voting structure giving complete power to a select number of clubs, namely nine (mainly the big six along with Everton, Southampton and West Ham, the 9 longest serving clubs in the division based on the current consecutive stay) with any decision needing approval of six of those 9 clubs. This in effect hands this group a veto in all but name on any proposal, which reportedly includes green lighting potential takeovers of Premier League clubs.
  • THE END OF ‘THE 92’: The next proposal is something not seen in the league since the mid 1990’s, the cut in size of the Premier League, this time from the current 20 clubs to just 18. With the EFL to retain its three divisions of 24 (A total of 90 clubs). On the face of it, this can be seen as a move to reduce fixture load on its clubs (taking away four games) which in turn would be seen as helping the national team in terms of player freshness when they are available and reducing the number of midweek fixtures. However, it would also mean two less clubs to hand out the lucrative broadcasting money to, potentially increasing further the gap between the haves and have-nots. A theory further enhanced by the next bullet point.
  • PROMOTION/RELEGATION CHANGES: The next part would see the League abolish its current 3-up/3-down system in favour of a format nowadays seen in France and Germany. That being the reduction of relegation spots to just two, with the third (the 16th placed club) being placed into the EFL Championship’s lucrative Playoffs meaning the Premier League may well have a representative in what has become known as the worlds richest football match, the Championship Playoff Final.
  • NO MORE COMMUNITY SHIELD OR LEAGUE CUP: The next proposal is quite controversial seeing as it would reduce further the number of fixtures played by Premier League Clubs, the first is the abolishment of the traditional season curtain raiser, the Community Shield. This has been contested since 1908 with Manchester United being the first winners. It’s a game that may be played out like a glorified friendly but that’s forgetting that it’s called the Community Shields for a reason, that being the proceeds of the game go to charity. However, the most controversial proposal is for the EFL to ditch its flagship competition, the League Cup. Sure it’s had its fair share of critics in recent years but it’s still a cup competition that clubs will attempt to win to get some silverware in the cabinet, and in some cases, provide some of the not so big clubs a shot at glory, remember Birmingham City shocking Arsenal in the 2011 final for instance?
  • AN ALL NEW LOAN SYSTEM: Changes here would allow clubs to loan out as many as 15 players out to EFL and non-league clubs.

Whew, that’s a lot of small print. The clubs behind the proposal have not set out an implementation date but according to the BBC article on this, some sources claim 2022-23 (i.e. the Premier League’s 30th anniversary) is ‘not out of the question.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eurosport

But what is the main reason for arguably the main crux of the proposals, the reduction in the size of the Premier League as well as the abolishment of the League Cup? Well a big reason points to talk of an expanded Champions League.

LINK: SportsPro: Champions League reform shifts to 48 team expansion

This was talk back in the summer of talk of the ECA (the European Club’s Association) wanting more European Club Football in the form of an expanded Champions League, expansion means more teams and more teams requires more games and more games will inevitably require cuts to domestic schedules.

RICK PARRY’S RESPONSE

Since Sunday, the story has changed constantly, with lots of other claims. But the main response has been from the Premier League themselves who released a short but blunt statement

LINK: Premier League statement in response to ‘Project Big Picture’

That is a clear indication that the Premier League themselves have nothing to do with this so called ‘Project Big Picture’ putting right a conception I had about it. This is a move initiated by United and Liverpool and nobody else.

To further add to the furore, enter current EFL chairman Rick Parry who himself is a former chairman of Liverpool and one of the key figures that helped the Premier League come to be in the first place in 1992.

He has basically given his full support to the proposals, basically citing two key points, firstly, the financial package on offer to the EFL and its 72 clubs especially right now at a real time of crisis, which is fair enough, he is in his position to fight for the interests of those 72 clubs.

But secondly, he puts on his former Liverpool chairman hat and lends his support for the bigger clubs having more voting power. Effectively supporting the call for the voting rights to be revamped in favour of the elite.

If one goes back to when the Premier League was founded in 1992, that was essentially a smaller scale power grab by what was known then as the ‘big five’ (Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton) to effectively end the structure at the time which saw those 5 have the same voting power as say Grimsby Town or Torquay United. Now today we’ve gone from 92 votes to a more condensed 20 votes and Parry now sees this as a hinderance to the current ‘big six’. A quote somewhere read “why should the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United have the same voting power as for example Huddersfield Town?” That in turn is taking a swipe at the status of the other 14 Premier League clubs.

In short, Parry is throwing his whole weight behind a long-term power grab for a short term gain, at least that’s how I see that statement.

WHAT DO I THINK?

In hindsight, you would probably look at me and think ‘hey, he’s a South Shields supporter, why would he be bothered about this?’ Well Infact, this decision would have a drastic effect on the whole of English football, not just at the top or in the EFL.

In effect, the change from 20 to 18 in the Premier League would create a ripple effect to be felt throughout the Football Pyramid, especially with National League North and South due to increase in size to 24 clubs each in 2021-22. For instance, the structure of the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup would require a drastic overhaul as 40 non-league clubs would be needed for the first round proper instead of the current 32. Not to mention the inevitable ripple effect of promotion/relegation issues right down the pyramid.

But that’s just my short viewpoint of non-league and its effects there in the short term, what about the long-term effect elsewhere?

Looking at the response from EFL clubs, it’s no surprise in my eyes that they are pretty much in favour. From their viewpoint, they’re being offered a £250million bailout and a good chunk of any future broadcast earnings, it’s the sort of financial package at this tough time that any EFL chairman would quickly grab with both fists. That part of the package I agree is needed for the EFL, and hopefully for clubs like mine, that money would then filter down through the pyramid. And with the need for emergency funding being urgent along with no Government support forthcoming for the EFL clubs as well as vast swathes of the arts and entertainment sector as well as the much publicised ‘furlough scheme’ due to cease at the end of October, its no wonder many EFL clubs are in favour of this.

PHOTO CREDIT: ultraboardgames.com

BUT I do not agree with the conditions of that financial package, i.e. this new voting structure, which makes me think that this financial package along with the £100million ‘cash gift’ to the FA is nothing more than a bribe in everything but name. In other words, the clubs involved taking advantage of the current pandemic’s financial crunch to push through the power grab they have wanted for a long time via dangling a big financial carrot to the clubs in need.

EFL chairman Rick Parry may talk about a great short term financial benefit in that regard, but if this proposal goes through, then long term, the so called ‘big six’ will pretty much hold all the cards in terms of how not only the Premier League is run, but English Football as a whole. And with the EFL’s 72 clubs standing to benefit in the short term. That leaves the Premier League’s other 14 clubs (and yes I include the three ‘outsiders’ standing to benefit in terms of power included in this new proposed voting structure) slap bank in the middle of a sandwich they’d rather not be in.

With this power, there will be pretty much nothing to stop them from implementing whatever proposal they wish to introduce which may benefit them both from a financial and competitive standpoint. What could they do? Here’s a few examples.

  • INDIVIDUAL TV BROADCAST DEALS: Some of the small print suggests proposals to end the current TV blackout in England, basically the TV blackot has written into law that no 3pm kickoffs on a Saturday can be broadcast on TV in Britain, it was brought in to protect the lower clubs who feared live football on TV may drive spectators away from their games to the comfort of their own homes. Relaxing that law would potentially allow the big clubs to cut their own broadcast deals for games not picked by Sky, BT or the international companies and potentially make millions for themselves like Barcelona and Real Madrid already do in La Liga.
  • ‘B’ AND YOUTH TEAMS IN THE PYRAMID: If one remembers last week, Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano gave an interview to which he claimed the EFL was unsustainable and that to help out, the biggest Premier League clubs should be allowed to have ‘B teams participate like the biggest clubs already do in Spain and Germany and also Juventus in Italy. That got a deserved backlash but in future with their voting power, what’s not to stop the bigger clubs from bringing it in, and what about even further bringing youth teams into the local non-league structures.
  • FURTHER PYRAMID MEDDLING: Let’s say 10 years down the line, the ‘big six’ look at their 18 team Premier League and think “hey, we want more Champions League games against our European peers, lets fit more in”, in which case, what’s to stop them in future reducing the size of the league further to 16 clubs?

Those are just three factors but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a quite small footprint. Basically, with the so called ‘big six’ possessing the amount of power they will have been given, there is practically no limit to what they could implement.

FINAL WORD

Overall, if this is agreed in its current format, it has the potential to change football in England pretty much in perpetuity. And it’s a change that I think will be very damaging. Not in the short term as the EFL and its club’s potentially stand to benefit a lot massively but in the long term as the increased voting powers give the ‘big six’ a chance to flex their muscles upon the English game.

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