London – When Liverpool and Manchester United sought someone to front a push to shake up the English soccer system, they turned to the man who pulled it off before.
“When we formed the Premier League, we had enormous initial objections,” recalled Ricky Parry, who helped clubs break away to form in 1992 what has grown into the world’s richest club soccer competition. “Change is never easy. Change is never popular, but sometimes change is necessary.”
It’s particularly necessary within Parry’s current employer: The English Football League, which oversees 72 clubs in the three divisions below the Premier League. Even before the pandemic, the EFL was full of teams operating on unsuitable budgets as they chase promotion, ultimately to the Premier League.
The enforced closure of stadiums to fans has cut off the main flow of revenue that teams rely on for their survival. Parry’s solution seems logical in going back to the Premier League and securing not only an immediate bailout, but a long-term formula to derive more cash from it.
The problem is the Premier League’s first chief executive didn’t work with the current leadership but with its two most successful teams: United and Liverpool.
The Premier League attacked the proposals as damaging for the English game as a whole.
Downing Street denounced “backroom dealing that undermines trust in football governance.”
That’s because in return for the Premier League sending more cash trickling down into the EFL each year — as “Project Big Picture” envisages — United and Liverpool would carve out means to seize more control and ultimately more cash.
Benevolence with the whiff of a power grab, funded largely by the rest of the Premier League.
“This isn’t about giving power to a limited number of named clubs,” Parry said.
Except it is.
No longer would all 20 clubs be equal partners. In fact, there would be only 18 — the same size of the Bundesliga — with the Premier League shrunk to allow the elite to cash in with more games beyond England in a potentially expanded Champions League after 2024.
United and Liverpool would be part of a group of the nine longest serving clubs who have control of the decision-making process with the required approval of only six to instigate changes — from appointing the league CEO to blocking the takeover of other teams. They’d also gain the right to sell the live TV rights to some of their games internationally — a boon to the most popular sides.
And it would take only six clubs to be able to later vote to water down the financial distribution model being proposed and widen the gulf in the Premier League by making the split of broadcast revenue less equitable.
“They should be commended for demonstrating some leadership, thinking about not just themselves,” Parry said, “but for the greater good.”
It’s curious why American-owned Liverpool and United have left Parry to do their bidding in public, as he’s head of a competition they don’t play in. Parry is, though, a former CEO of Liverpool which rouses even more uneasiness about plans being characterized as a coup.
“It’s a day to applaud Liverpool and Manchester United,” Parry said hours after he made the strategy public on Sunday. “Not to be suspicious, not to be critical, but actually just to look at the nuts and bolts of the plan, which really do stand out. Very clear, very simple. It is about a reset. It is about redistribution.”
So what does that look like?
Some appealing numbers for lower-league teams in need and the Football Association, which governs the sport in England and runs the national teams.
An immediate advance of £100 million ($130 million) to the Football Association and another £250 million to the EFL.
Currently, the Premier League generates around £3 billion annually from broadcasters, although the rights market could be squeezed by the effect of the pandemic recession and changing viewing habits.
From 2022, the Premier League would use 8.5% of its revenue to fund the competition, the FA and good causes. A quarter of the remaining pot would be handed down across the EFL’s three leagues, replacing around £350 million in annual solidarity payments and fees for teams relegated from the top-flight.
“We have long believed that the major long-term issue facing English football is the cliff edge between the Premier League and Championship finances,” said John Coates, the joint-chairman of Stoke, which was relegated from the top division two years ago.
So while EFL clubs are optimistic that plans to boost their bank balances are in play, they know just why there is so much suspicion about the motives of the Premier League elite.
“It stands out as a bit of a power grab,” said Dale Vince, chairman of fourth-tier club Forest Green in southwest England. “We’ll give with one hand but take something a little bit bigger with the other hand. It’s the most contentious part of the whole package.”