Rick Parry & The Megaclubs: Best Buddies Forever

by | Oct 11, 2020

Credit where it’s due, it’s sly. A thin veneer of togetherness draped over the greatest power grab that association football has ever seen. But Project Big Picture, the now-leaked plans for how the longest-standing members of the Premier League intend to exchange putting much-needed money into the EFL now for seizing control of the professional game in perpetuity, should be seen for what it truly is. It’s the mother of all land grabs, a flagrant plan to perpetually tilt the scales still further towards preserving the positions of the currently wealthiest clubs.

It’s not implausible that prior awareness of the leaking of this document might even have been behind the Premier League’s counter-intuitive stupid decision to announce on Friday that they would be making matches pay-per-view at £15 a match. Perhaps the stink from that would obscure the stink from this. This, however, is far from a bad smell. This is, in short, a declaration of invasion, and this would be problematic enough were it not for the fact that it is believed that the chairman of the EFL are on board with the idea.

Let’s have a look at those proposals in a little more detail, though:

  • £250 million immediately to the EFL to compensate its clubs for lost matchday revenue, deducted from future television revenue earnings and financed by a loan taken out by the Premier League. That is about the annual television and prize money for two and a bit clubs. For one season. Just in case you were wondering exactly how little they would actually be paying, here.
  • Special status for the nine longest serving clubs – and the vote of only six of those “long-term shareholders” required to make major changes, including amending rules and regulations, agreeing contracts, removal of the chief executive, and a wide-ranging veto including on club ownership. So the “Top Six” (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs) and three others will get to decide who the CEO is, what the league rules are, and who can and can’t own a club?
  • Premier League to go to 18 clubs from 20. In order to free the biggest clubs to pursue even more money through what is expected to be an expanded Champions League or European Super League.
  • £100 million one-off gift to the FA to cover its coronavirus losses, the non-league game, the women’s game, the grassroots. This is one-seventeenth the annual value of the current domestic television contracts.
  • 8.5 per cent of annual net Premier League revenue to go on operating costs and “good causes” including the FA. Because with this proposal the reduction of the FA is to just being “those people who run the FA Cup and the men’s national team.”
  • From the remainder, 25 per cent of all combined Premier League and Football League revenues to go to the EFL clubs. So in this brave new world 75% of television revenues got to 20% of clubs, then. And we can likely expect there to be an asterisk next to that 25% which will make it more likely to go down than up in the future.
  • Six per cent of Premier League gross revenues to pay for stadium improvements across the top four divisions, calculated at £100 per seat. Welcome, but financially sustainable clubs in the both the Premier League and the EFL should be able to carry ground improvements as part of their normal operating costs.
  • New rules for the distribution of Premier League television income, overseas and domestic, including proposals that base one portion on performance over three years in the league. Ripping up the relatively equal television contract conventions to pay a greater proportion to… you guessed it, the biggest clubs.
  • The abolition of the League Cup and the Community Shield. Because who cares about winning trophies when there’s money to be made by finishing 13th in the table every year in perpetuity?
  • 24 clubs each in the Championship, League One and League Two reducing the professional game overall from 92 clubs to 90. Trickledown economics, Premier League-style: this will press down and down through the divisions.
  • A women’s professional league independent of the Premier League or the FA. The rationale for this probably needs to be explained. Since the biggest clubs have spent a relatively small amount of money buying up the places at the top of the Women’s Super League, should we assume that they also want to run the women’s game with no oversight?
  • Two sides automatically relegated from the Premier League every season and the top two Championship teams promoted. The 16th place Premier League club will enter the play-offs with the Championship’s third, fourth and fifth placed teams. So that’s two and a quarter relegation places from the Premier League. And we can only wonder how long it will be before the “and a quarter” vanishes from that.
  • Financial fair play regulations in line with Uefa, and full access for Premier League executives to club accounts.
  • A fan charter including capping of away tickets at £20, away travel subsidised, a focus on a return to safe standing, a minimum away allocation of eight per cent capacity. Again, this will cost them next to nothing. And they should have been strongly supporting safe standing for the last ten years.
  • Later Premier League start in August to give greater scope for pre-season friendlies, and requirement for all clubs to compete once every five years in a summer Premier League tournament. The introduction of a Premier League summer tournament speaks volumes about the amount of bad faith on display when anyone within the game has ever complained about “fixture congestion” in the past.
  • Huge changes to loan system allowing clubs to have 15 players out on loan domestically at any one time and up to four at a single club in England. Sounds like Premier League B teams by the back door, to me. Indeed, such a rule change looks exactly the sort of thing you introduce when you expect to be able to expect to be able to ride roughshod over it at an unspecified date in the future.

Obviously, the small number of changes that would benefit the EFL – 25% of cumulative television contract money, for example – would be good things in and of themselves, but we should make no mistake that these would be scraps from the table in comparison with what the biggest clubs would take from it all. These nine clubs would control who could own any of their rivals. They could decide any further rule changes between themselves without even needing to consult with anybody else. They’d get fewer Premier League matches per season, opening up a little more space to pursue their European ambitions and, of course, with other rule changes there’d be no-one to get in the way of them pursuing a European Super League whilst playing B teams in the domestic league.

Parry, who presumably must be aware of how all of this will go down with the supporters of many clubs, seems to have chosen this as his hill to die upon:

What do we do? Leave it exactly as it is and allow the smaller clubs to wither? Or do we do something about it? And you can’t do something about it without something changing. And the view of our clubs is if the six get some benefits but the 72 also do, we are up for it.

Well, the big issue here is that it isn’t a binary question. All of this has been going on without any consultation with supporters, which should give us all some idea of where we stand in this overall food chain, but the idea that this power grab is only conceivable alternative to the EFL withering on the vine is preposterous.We can only reiterate that the government should be doing more to help clubs in League One and League Two, which are on the whole far more similar to clubs in the National League than they are to those in the Premier League, than merely standing back and barking, “the Premier League should be paying for it.” Presumably, were the EFL to vote against it, they would step in with funding on the basis that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, something of which they’ve been regularly reminding us for the last four or five years.

Indeed, the proposal that has been leaked, if anything, makes the EFL look somewhat redundant. If television money is being pooled between the two, then why not just give all control of the entire 92 (soon to be revised down to 90) to the Premier League? “It is definitely going to be challenging and it is an enormous change so that won’t be without some pain”, Parry told the Telegraph, presumably secure in the belief that he won’t be experiencing any of this pain himself. He may change his tune, should it be decided that the EFL is surplus to requirements in five years time. Or perhaps he might be working for the Premier League again by then. After all, he was the Premier League’s first CEO and a former CEO of Liverpool, one of the two big clubs reported as being behind these proposals.

The Premier League has already issued a statement seeking to play down the proposals:

We have seen media reports today regarding a plan to restructure football in this country. English football is the world’s most watched, and has a vibrant, dynamic and competitive league structure that drives interest around the globe. To maintain this position, it is important that we all work together.

Both the Premier League and The FA support a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game, including its competition structures, calendar and overall financing particularly in light of the effects of COVID-19.

Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute. In the Premier League’s view, a number of the individual proposals in the plan published today could have a damaging impact on the whole game and we are disappointed to see that Rick Parry, Chair of the EFL, has given his on-the-record support.

The Premier League has been working in good faith with its clubs and the EFL to seek a resolution to the requirement for COVID-19 rescue funding.

This work will continue.

It’s difficult to find any way of looking at this that doesn’t conclude with the word “extortion”, though. Premier League clubs have told us all exactly what they think of us, over the last few days. The fact that these conversations have been going on since 2017 with no supporter consultation – because hey, we’re only the people who pay for this whole carousel to keep spinning in the first place – speaks volumes, especially when coupled with their decision to charge supporters, including season ticket holders, the extortionate – that word again! – price of £15 per match to watch matches on TV while stadiums stay closed.

But if Rick Parry wants to hand English football to the biggest clubs in the Premier League, then perhaps he should go and work for one of those clubs rather than leading an organisation which will, frankly, become irrelevant should the plans that he is championing go through. The price of a small donation from the Premier League to the EFL will be for the EFL to surrender itself to English football’s biggest clubs, for good. And we should be clear that, whilst there are good things in the proposal, it should be absolutely clear to anybody reading this that none of those have a cat in hell’s chance of proceeding unless all the worst things are also included, and that all of the good things could easily get watered down in the future.

Should this ever come to fruition, the EFL will have ceased to hold any relevance beyond its name. And at that point it might even be worth smaller clubs wondering whether it’s even worth continuing to throw their lot it with others who will not be happy until all clubs are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the biggest and shiniest, and who will continue to tilt the scales against them until this eventuality. And for supporters, who’ve been looking at forlorn pictures of empty grounds for the last seven months, there is a similar question – at what point does this simply become not worth the effort any more?