Publish Date: 04/15/2021
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa
Last October, several Premier League clubs shocked the world of soccer by proposing radical changes named “Project Big Picture” that would completely rebalance the sport. Many felt it was an opportunistic power grab and managed to unite the fans of almost all teams, pundits, and even the UK’s government against the plans.
Although Project Big Picture was dead on arrival, it did spark a conversation in English soccer on how to make the sport more equitable and how to help struggling clubs in the lower rungs of the pyramid become financially sustainable.
Those conversations have continued well into 2021, with several radical proposals discussed by the Premier League.
Soccer is England’s national sport. Generations of fans have crammed into many of the same historic stadiums for centuries. Soccer predates most sports in the US. For comparison, the NFL was founded in August 1920, but the English Football Association had already been operating for almost six decades by that point.
The oldest club in the English Premier League is Aston Villa, which first played a game in 1874. Most other clubs in the top flight of English soccer are also more than a century old.
However, it’s only in the last 30 years or so that a handful of clubs have come to dominate the league. Before then, many different names could be seen at the top of the sport, with a lot more unpredictability.
This has changed because of the commercialization of the sport, helping to bring in cash that has built bigger and more impressive stadiums, introduced live TV coverage, and helped to make it more entertaining.
But this has also had a side effect of concentrating the wealth in the entire sport at the top, creating financial difficulties for clubs in the lower leagues and creating a positive feedback loop that means success on the pitch generates more money and more money leads to more success.
Project Big Picture was a proposal that the largest six clubs claimed could address this. Many other stakeholders, including fans and the British government, were less enthusiastic. The plans were scrapped less than a week after they were announced, with a joint statement from all Premier League clubs committing to “work together…on a strategic plan for the future” instead.
Project Big Picture would have made several major changes to English soccer at almost every level. Firstly, it would have seen teams in the English Football League (EFL) given $325 million as a one-off payment and then a 25% share of future TV deals that the Premier League signs.
In return, the teams that proposed the plans wanted to shrink the Premier League from 20 clubs to 18 and scrap the EFL Cup and the Community Shield competitions. This would cut down on the number of games they played each season, helping them to avoid “fixture congestion” and allow them to play more games in the Champions League and other UEFA competitions.
For the big six teams, fixture congestion is a problem that managers have to contend with. Being consistently successful means that they qualify for more tournaments and have to compete in more games. While this can be a commercial boon, it means success on the pitch can suffer because players are spread too thin. Jose Mourinho, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur is one of the managers that has aired his concerns about the number of games his team plays, stating he has to “prepare supporters for defeat” in some competitions.
The “big six” clubs would also get special voting rights over the Premier League, essentially allowing them to secure permanent positions in the competition
With Project Big Picture scrapped, the teams went back to work on a new plan. Some of the proposals were retained, at least for further discussion. One of these was the prospect of reducing the size of the Premier League by 10%, leading to an 18 club league instead of the current 20.
However, at a shareholder meeting in early April, these plans were rejected by the Premier League clubs.
As of yet, aside from the rejection of proposals recycled from Project Big Picture, no concrete ideas have been made public. However, the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, declared that “change is coming” in a statement at the end of 2020. So, it’s likely a matter of “when” and not “if” changes will come to English soccer.