The Premier League will attempt to finalise a bailout package for the EFL on Wednesday but the anger generated by Project Big Picture has left some clubs unwilling to hand over money while Rick Parry is the EFL’s chairman.
The offer is expected to be worth £140m – payable in loans and grants – but that would be some way short of the £250m the EFL is seeking as it reels from the impact of Covid-19. An identical proposal has already been rejected by the EFL.
The Premier League’s push to agree a bailout at a virtual meeting of its clubs is designed to undermine the drive to reform English football led by Liverpool and Manchester United and supported by Parry and most EFL clubs.
The fallout from those plans continued on Tuesday when the Football Association’s chairman, Greg Clarke, claimed he walked away from discussions when “a breakaway league [was] mooted as a threat”.
The virtual meeting of Premier League clubs has been convened at short notice for 11am. The leading Liverpool executives John W Henry and Mike Gordon are due to present Project Big Picture but the idea is understood to have dismayed the majority of clubs outside the Big Six, meaning it has next to no chance of being voted into being in its current form.
Under its terms, the EFL would be given a £250m bailout and a transformational 25% of a future collective broadcasting agreement in exchange for the Premier League’s Big Six clubs being granted overwhelming voting control on a number of important issues. Any legislative changes currently need the support of 14 of the division’s 20 clubs.
Several Premier League clubs are known to be incensed at Parry, after he negotiated secretly with Liverpool and United to come up with Project Big Picture. The strength of their feelings has led some to say they do not want to present their bailout plan to the EFL unless he goes.
The stance, which is likely to be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, is effectively designed to pressure the EFL’s clubs into choosing between the Premier League’s bailout money and Parry. On Tuesday Parry received near unanimous support for his endorsement of Project Big Picture from his 72 league clubs.
Talks between the Premier League, EFL and government over a bailout have been taking place since the spring without resolution. This despite the government making clear it expects the Premier League to transfer funds down the pyramid.
For some Premier League clubs, the sticking point has been a fear that by transferring money to the lower leagues they might be reinforcing rivals. They see it as counterintuitive to bail out wealthy Championship clubs who could replace them in the Premier League.
They have also wondered why these clubs have not taken measures – such as player wage cuts or deferrals – before coming to them for a bailout. It has led to a feeling among Premier League clubs that the bailout must be means-tested.
From the other side of the negotiating table there has been increasing frustration at what is seen as a lack of engagement from the Premier League. EFL sources suggested an offer of £140m – £40m in grants and £110m in loans advanced against future television revenue – was made on behalf of the Premier League this summer and rejected.
They also observe that some of the clubs most staunchly against Project Big Picture, arguing it will destroy the competitive nature of the top flight, had argued privately for a suspension of promotion and relegation when the 2019-20 season was suspended because of Covid-19.
The pressure will be on Liverpool’s executives, alongside Ed Woodward and Joel Glazer at Manchester United, to persuade their fellow shareholders to give their plans consideration. The clubs in opposition to Project Big Picture believe their shareholdings would become irrelevant if the Big Six had controlling votes and could decide on matters such as how broadcasting revenues were split, who could own clubs and who was the chairman of the league.
The ideas behind Project Big Picture have been in gestation for up to a decade with the aspect of a bailout added to proposals in May.
The clubs have not collectively discussed the proposals since they were leaked to the Daily Telegraph last weekend. A meeting between members of the Big Six over the plans did take place last Wednesday, however, and was positive. Joel Glazer chaired it and he is believed to have opened a pitch to his rival clubs by emphasising the importance to their success of the strength of the English football pyramid.
Fans from supporters’ trusts and similar organisations at Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea on Tuesday issued a joint statement to oppose Project Big Picture. They called for a supporter-led review into football governance and said: “There are some suggestions in this plan that have merit. But we are totally opposed to concentrating power in the hands of six billionaire owners and departing from the one club, one vote and collective ethos of the Premier League.”