WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER PICTURE
Darren has spent four years working for The Fan Experience Company and is a UEFA Mentor. He is responsible for assessment reports that in 2019/20, went to over 200 clubs in 13 countries.
He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying customer service in the USA .
Our look at the fallout from the Project Big Picture debate continues here with the rest of the key stakeholders:
If you haven’t read Part 1, you can view it here
The Big Six
Although Liverpool and Manchester United were named as co-conspirators in this, the other members of the so-called ‘Big 6’ – Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs – are also heavily linked, and according to reports, kept their heads down during Wednesday’s meeting. They did have reservations too, but of course, they wouldn’t say no to more power. Most people in football would acknowledge that this has always been the case with the bigger clubs anyway.
There is a question, if only playing devil’s advocate, that’s worth asking here. The current voting rules give each of the 20 teams one, equal vote. But should a club that has been in the Premier League for 23 years and probably will be for another 23, have exactly the same power as one who gets there for the first time and nine months later, might be back in the EFL?
Liverpool and Manchester United feel they can claim a win in this, not the embarrassing defeat some have tried to paint it as. The big question is what happens next? After all, the big clubs have shown their cards and surely the voting rights and repositioning of power will also be part of the wider review.
The Other Fourteen
Any vote in the Premier League needs 14 clubs to agree to get it passed. So, if the rest of the clubs outside the top six want to collectively veto anything, they can. It’s partly what the proposals were trying to change and it meant that if a club was strongly against the plans – as West Ham said they were – then they only need six more like-minded owners to get their way.
It was why these proposals were unlikely to ever get agreement. There was too much to lose for the rest, with a smaller number of top-flight teams and the removal of parachute payments for relegated clubs. In that sense, the initial outcome seems to be a win for the collective remainder, but that’s not necessarily the case. While all the clubs have agreed to play nice this time around, the message is clear and that’s that the bigger clubs want more power than the rest and future talks are going to be pushing that way. How long the rest – who’s power is significantly weaker without the big 6 – can continue to flex their muscles will be interesting. But it works both ways; the big 6 are only that because there are another 14 who, by definition, are smaller. Split them and everyone is a bit weaker.
Of course, the financial riches of being in the Premier League means that there will always be resistance outside the top 6 (plus maybe Everton and Leicester who you wouldn’t expect to be relegated) to a smaller league and cutting the parachute chord. 12 clubs are vulnerable to relegation every season which adds up to a lot of sleepless nights. Taking the short term view, West Ham (to pick one of those against) might think that 20 teams and parachute payments represent the best way forward today. An alternative view might be that, if relegation did happen and the club wasn’t able to get back up straight away, then the proposals offered much better longer-term financial terms for EFL clubs so that they don’t get into serious trouble in the way that the likes of Blackpool, Hull City, Portsmouth, Wigan and a few others have after losing their top-flight status.
The Premier League
But, after 23 years, they are susceptible to change too whether it’s welcome or not. Yes, they have been an incredible money-making machine right from the off but the clubs within it have always held all the power and the option, at any time, to go another way if they all – or rather 14 of them – choose.
In their initial response, the Premier League said that it ‘wanted a wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game’, adding: “This work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute.” They also said the proposals could have a ‘damaging effect’ on the game. They would say both, as they stood to be the biggest losers if this had gone another way, but the question remains. Why did it take the leaking of PBP to force this ‘wide-ranging discussion’ to move up the agenda? As Parry said, they’d had several months to come up with a plan of their own before this.
But that aside, reform is clearly needed. The Premier League were, and just about remain, in pole position but if they don’t want to be undermined any further, they need to make good on their promise and get the review started as quickly as possible (as Richard Masters has suggested they will). So far, the money being talked about is £50m (in grants and loans) to help smaller club stay afloat.
Bu the question I heard, when the bailout talks started, was along the lines of ‘do Birmingham City need help when they got £30m for Jude Bellingham?’ – a question that is easier to ask when the £30m came from Borussia Dortmund – but more often, these talented EFL players, developed in academies up and down the country, go to the Premier League, as do talented managers like Dean Smith, so maybe there has to be more to their reservations than simply money.
The Premier League have – seemingly – committed to change. How much of it actually happens remains to be seen.
This is a crisis and it was on the way to being catastrophic. We couldn’t ignore the very real cries for help from lower league clubs with Peterborough United’s owner, Darragh MacAnthony, warning in that ‘not my club but…’ way that some others are approaching a payroll crunch in December that would be followed by filing for administration in January.
Nigel Travis, chairman of Leyton Orient concurred, saying ‘clubs will “disappear within five to six weeks” unless they get financial support. He, like many chiefs in the EFL, was a fan of PBP, but also pointed out that ‘it wasn’t about the pandemic, this is about a crisis in football that goes back many years.’ Before Covid, he added, 75% of clubs were losing money. In a ‘we are where we are’ situation, the EFL needs money now not recriminations about how clubs got where they are, and this compromise seems to offer that – to leagues one and two at least. There is still an agreement to be reached and they might feel that, while PBP had a lot more to offer, the debate it caused looks like it will get them through the next few months provided an agreement can be reached with the Premier League on the amount of money required to keep clubs afloat (the £50m offer was rejected on Friday 16 October).
But it does also highlight the way the pyramid is viewed. My favourite line in all this was from a club owner who said that that ‘everyone thinks the EFL suckle from the Premier League but it’s actually the other way around.’ It’s probably a bit of both, but the top clubs rely on all the others for players, facilities, friendlies and all the off-field talent so it shouldn’t be dismissed. Factor in too the ‘supermarkets to corner shops’ comparison that Steve Parrish of Crystal Palace offered. If that’s how it is, then a corner shop like Stevenage might wonder how much difference new voting rights in the Premier League might have on their day-to-day existence and, thus, not care that much compared to the promise of much-needed cash right now.
© The Fan Experience Company 2020