Overhaul of Premier League United and Liverpool driving forces behind the biggest changes to English football
Manchester United and Liverpool are the driving forces behind the biggest changes to English football in a generation and an extraordinary overhaul of the Premier League.
The two clubs have worked together on a radical set of proposals - called “Project Big Picture” that will reshape the finances of the game. The Premier League, the most lucrative sports league in the world, would be reduced to 18 teams, and controlling power would be in the hands of the biggest clubs.
In return for tearing up many of the rules that have governed the game since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, there would be a £250 million rescue package for the English Football League to see them through the Covid crisis.
Details of the working document “Revitalisation” authored by Liverpool’s American ownership Fenway Sports Group with support from United, prompting strong opposition, led by the Government.
The plan anticipated the backing of the other members of the so-called “Big Six”, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
In a remarkable set of proposals, which sent shock waves through the game, 25 per cent of the Premier League’s annual revenue would go to the EFL clubs, with £250 million paid up front because of the impact of the pandemic.
There would also be a gift of £100 million to sustain the Football Association and its stakeholders.
However, there would be an abolition of the one club, one vote principle that has sustained the Premier League since its inception, as well as the abolition of the threshold of 14 votes to pass any decision or regulation change.
Under the new proposals, the League Cup and the Community Shield would be abolished.
There have been additional discussions that the League Cup would survive, but without the participation of the clubs competing in Europe.
There would be two automatic promotion places for Championship clubs, but those placed third, fourth and fifth would be in a play-off -tournament with the 16th-placed Premier League club.
The nine clubs who have been in the Premier League for the longest - which includes the Big Six - would dictate its running in every aspect and would be free to play more games in an expanded Champions League that is anticipated from the 2024-25 season.
As well as the Premier League dropping from 20 clubs to 18, there would be 24 in each of the Championship, League One and League Two making a total of 90. Premier League revenues would pay for stadium improvements across the top four divisions, calculated at pounds 100 per seat.
The plan is supported by Rick Parry, the EFL chairman, who has held talks with Liverpool’s principal owner, the American investor John W Henry, and shareholder and director Mike Gordon. In addition, Parry has spoken to the Glazer family, who own United.
The talks began in 2017, but have been accelerated since the coronavirus pandemic has thrust football into the grip of crisis with no fans in stadiums until March at the earliest.
Liverpool and United are prepared for a fierce debate over their proposals, but they want them implemented as soon as possible and to take effect for the 2022-23 season.
The Revitalisation document calls for immediate action to cut dramatically what it calls the “revenue chasm” in earnings from television contracts between the Premier League and the EFL. In order to discourage Championship clubs from gambling recklessly on promotion, the parachute payments system would be abolished in favour of the 25 per cent share of Premier League revenue being shared more equitably among EFL clubs.
Under proposals for the new model of distribution of television revenue in the Premier League, Fenway, the driving force behind the document, insist there would be no greater share for the top six. Their stated aim is to eliminate the huge gap in earnings between Premier League and EFL clubs while in return having a greater control of the decisions made by the Premier League. The document says: “A reset of the economics and governance of the English football pyramid is long overdue.”
The proposals also rewrite the Premier League’s 20-club democracy in favour of placing huge power in the hands of the nine clubs with the longest continual stay in the division. As things stand that is the Big Six, plus Everton, Southampton and West Ham United. Those nine clubs afforded “long-term shareholder status” would have unprecedented power, with the votes of just six of them required to make sweeping changes. These clubs would even be able to veto a new owner taking over a rival club.
The plans also include funding for a women’s professional league independent of the Premier League and FA and a fan charter including capping of away tickets at pounds 20 and away travel subsidised. A later -Premier League start in August would give greater scope for -pre-season friendlies, and there is a requirement for all clubs to compete once every five years in a summer Premier League tournament.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Parry said he had the support of many of his 72 members, many of whom are facing financial ruin, to go ahead with the plan. He said: “What do we do? Leave it exactly as it is and allow the smaller clubs to wither? Or do we do something about it? You can’t do something about it without something changing. And the view of our clubs is if the [Big] Six get some benefits but the 72 also do, we are up for it.”
He accepted there would be opposition from the Premier League clubs outside the Big Six who would see it as detrimental to their financial prospects with less money and two fewer places in the top flight.
“It is definitely going to be challenging and it is an enormous change so that won’t be without some pain,” Parry said. “Do I genuinely think it’s for the greater good of the game as a whole? Absolutely. And if the [Big] Six are deriving some benefit, why shouldn’t they?”