Let’s cut to the chase: the Premier League Project Big Picture plans will ensure survival for many in the short term, at the cost of ambition, integrity and competition. Owners need to make a decision, and fans need to revolt, even if it means risking the death of their beloved clubs.
With stadiums remaining closed to paying fans up and down the land, the death certificates for many teams in the English Football League are beginning to be inked.
Bury went last year, Macclesfield this time, neither COVID-related, but an indicator of how close to the wall many sides are operating.
Eight months without matchday income has ravaged clubs from the Championship down to League Two – they’re sinking, they’re going under, the end is in sight.
Enter Project Big Picture.
The Premier League is primed and ready to donate £250 million to EFL teams in need, plus a further 25 per cent of revenue made in the years to come, up from the current solidarity payments of four per cent. The long-term figures will be send EFL owners’ eyes spinning backwards through their heads, so too will the goodie bag of treats being served up on a platter.
Away fan allocations are set for an increase, £20 away tickets for all, safe-standing will be introduced once legalised, it’s almost too good to be true!
That’s because it is.
If you have spent years campaigning for Twenty’s Plenty, for safe-standing, for cheaper tickets, subsidised travel and more, you will have been met by a solid wall of resistance. Are you not perplexed by the ease, the swiftness, the casualness of the treats on offer as part of the rescue package? If you’re not, you really should be.
Premier League fans have been denied, ignored and shot down at every turn in their efforts to ground the top flight, to bring it back to the masses, the people, those who can’t afford £80 individual match tickets and £7 pints, those who don’t want cheese rooms and popcorn machines, those who just want to watch football – live and authentic.
Now the whole package is being offered at once, every wish granted, every concern soothed, all that is left to be done is signing the death warrant of competition. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The price tag for the goodie bag, the rescue package, the payments is that all power in the Premier League must be transferred over to the nine longest-serving teams in the proposed new 18-team top flight.
That will include the increasingly detached Premier League big six plus three additional rotating members who may or may not drop out of the reckoning.
The current system means 14 teams out of 20 must vote in favour of major change for it to pass through, but the Big Picture proposal would require just six votes of nine to initiate change. New proposals would mean six of the nine would have to vote to approve new owners and club takeovers, up-starts, challengers, competitors, rivals.
Imagine Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ASDA, Waitrose, Morrisons and Aldi voting in favour of a smaller chain being taken over by a global conglomerate, the supermarket crown in their sights? Imagine if the power was in their hands? Of course they wouldn’t approve it. And so the Premier League will become.
Chelsea and Manchester City are part of proposing a plan that would prevent future Chelsea and Manchester City situations. They found their golden tickets, they plunged money and money and money into themselves, and now they’re pulling up the drawbridge behind them.
Ironically, the plans to hand over power to the big boys must be voted by 14 of 20 Premier League teams, the EFL can apply pressure, offer support, but ultimately doesn’t hold any cards.
The likes of Wolves, Leicester and Everton, who sit in the chasing pack daring to dream of sustainably cracking the top six, will simply not go for this. Newcastle, Leeds, Aston Villa and West Ham are also among the historically big teams and would surely shoot down any chance of giving power to those above and money to those below. Why would they?
The most worrying part of this ordeal is how quick the EFL clubs have been to accept the cold hand of salvation from the Premier League. The EFL would forever stack the deck against itself. They would be choosing short term gain over long term ambition. They would be selling their fishing rod for a fish.
For many ambition-free teams, survival is enough, plodding on through the lower leagues picking up steady income is enough. But for those teams who want to achieve, those teams like Wolves and Leicester who have tasted League One football in recent history and bounced back to the top of the English game, PBP plans would firmly place a ceiling above their heads.
Innovative, future-thinking Brentford, who are yet to reach the Premier League, have steadily worked on their project and sit on the cusp of the top flight, but they would be limited in how far they can go.
And who is to say the extra revenue will actually work? The initial down-payment would plug holes and patch up balance sheets, but regular yearly funding will be exploited. It’s painfully obvious to see.
Money that floods into the EFL is not guaranteed to be used for its designed purpose, to ensure the sustainability of business. It will inevitably be used to get ahead of rivals, it will be used on ever-inflating transfer fees, it will be funnelled into increasing salaries.
Within the medium term, the 25 per cent will not be a lifeline or a sustainability-promoter, it will be an inflation catalyst, pumping up prices across the board to equally unstable levels as we’re seeing now, just with higher stakes and bigger cliffs to fall off.
And then the EFL will look back, it will see the 2020 trade-off as the turning point. It will realise it handed the keys of British football to six overseas owners of six global brands with no interest in the humble fan experience, whether you’re sitting or standing, whether you can afford an away day or not.
EFL clubs may have survived the immediate carnage, but for what? They would be rescued into a new world where the game is rigged against them, always shifting to move ambition over the horizon, out of sight, all to protect the self-professed elite.
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