DCMS has criticised English Football League Chairman Rick Parry for his open support of radical changes to English football’s competition and reward structures revealed in this Sunday’s publication of ‘Project Big Picture’.
Publishing its ‘worldwide exclusive’, The Daily Telegraph reported that the US owners of Manchester United and Liverpool FC had drafted radical proposals pursuing ‘English football’s biggest shake-up in a generation and an extraordinary overhaul of the Premier League’.
Forming the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’, the owners of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are prepared to back Project Big Picture, securing new controls with regards to media rights, financial compensation, competition arrangements, league governance and financial safety nets.
Project Big Picture would be publicly endorsed by Parry as EFL Chairman, who believes that English football needs a critical rethink in how the ‘top flight distributes funds down the football pyramid’.
Parry backed the Big Six proposals on the grounds of addressing longstanding EFL funding concerns. The Premier League would distribute over 25% of its annual income to the lower leagues – though ‘relegation parachute payments’ would be scrapped under a new scheme.
Further financial safeguards would see the EFL receive an upfront payment of £250 million to help non-Premier League clubs navigate COVID-19 financial hardships – an emergency measure called upon by DCMS.
The Premier League immediately issued a statement lambasting Parry for supporting measures drafted behind closed doors, which would see the Premier League lose its current one-club/one-vote voting system to favour the Big Six.
“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,” it said.
“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.”
Parry then issued a personal response to the criticism, stating that the EFL could ‘no longer neglect the urgency to reform English football’ in which the EFL operates within an ‘unbridgeable gap’ in comparison to Premier League financing.
Parry pointed to the EFL 2018/2019 accounts which saw the distribution of £146 million in funding to all participating Championship clubs in comparison to the £1.5 billion (11X) received by the bottom 14 Premier League teams.
The EFL chairman remained unequivocal in his support of objectives purposed by Project Big Picture as a means of ‘revitalising football’s pyramid across all levels’.
“A new beginning will reinvigorate clubs in the lower leagues and the communities in which they are based,” Parry stated in his response. “This is about building on what is good and making the most of what works well in order to benefit the game as a whole, while simultaneously tackling those issues which trouble all of us. This is a blueprint for the future of English football and for everyone who cherishes it.
“Project Big Picture takes a huge step by sharing 25 per cent of Premier League media net revenues with the EFL in order to correct this imbalance going forward. Coupled with the introduction of strict cost controls, Clubs at every level of the EFL will become properly sustainable even in the face of a major crisis – and more importantly – beyond.”
Criticism of Parry and the Big Six’s actions have been widespread across English football as Premier League counterparts stated that they had not been informed of any plans prior to the Telegraph’s leak.
Meanwhile, it remains unknown whether EFL clubs support Parry’s endorsement of radical reforms, as media reports circulate that football boardrooms view proposals as a direct power grab of English football by the foreign owners of the Big Six.
Parry’s actions will likely carry political ramifications, at a time when DCMS maintains an overloaded work schedule to complete key projects related to Brexit, reshaping Britain’s digital future, BBC structural overhaul and the National Lottery tender.
On Wednesday, DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden will present to a Commons Select Committee the government’s plans on how to return spectators safely to UK sports venues. A rift between Premier League and EFL leadership will be seen as a further headache for DCMS closing its 2020 proceedings.
“We are surprised and disappointed that at a time of crisis, when we have urged the top tiers of professional football to come together and finalise a deal to help lower-league clubs, there appear to be backroom deals being cooked up that would create a closed shop at the very top of the game,” said DCMS in its statement.
“Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that may undermine them is deeply troubling. Fans must be front of all our minds, and this shows why our fan-led review of football governance will be so critical.”