A big six takeover by stealth? Or a much-needed reform to protect the future of the football pyramid? Welcome to the ‘Project Big Picture’ debate over a possible Premier League revamp.
But what do the radical proposals – which have been criticised by the Premier League, the government and supporters’ groups – actually involve?
BBC Sport looks at the main issues and asks for your opinion.
Cutting the numbers
Prior to the formation of the Premier League in 1992, there had been a desire to reduce English football’s top flight to 18 teams to cut the number of fixtures and support the national team.
The Football Association argued the removal of fixtures would leave players fresher for international matches and tournaments. That stance was also taken by former England bosses Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, who repeatedly called for fewer fixtures and a winter break – but not if clubs were going to fill those dates with lucrative friendlies.
The new proposals would see each Premier League team play four fewer league matches.
There would be no change in the Championship, League One and League Two, with all retaining 24 teams.
But the structure of the professional game would alter, going from 92 clubs down to 90 overall – meaning two clubs from League Two would drop into the National League.
Axing the League Cup and the Community Shield
The plans also call for the abolishment of the Community Shield – a fixture played since 1908-09 – and the League Cup.
Liverpool hold the record for most victories in the League Cup, having won it on eight occasions since it was introduced in 1960-61.
Discussions have reportedly taken place about maintaining the League Cup but without clubs involved in European competition.
The competition currently provides additional revenue for clubs and a route into the Europa League for the winners.
Revised top-flight promotion and relegation
The 16th-placed top-flight club would participate in a play-off tournament with the Championship’s third, fourth and fifth-placed teams.
This system was used in 1986-87 and 1987-88 but then scrapped after the old First Division was reduced from 22 clubs to 20.
The approach is also similar to the promotion and relegation system used in other countries – most notably in Germany’s Bundesliga.
New format, new finance?
The economic disparity between Premier League clubs and those in the English Football League has grown considerably since 1992, largely down to television income.
Under the new plans, EFL clubs would be given a £250m rescue fund to help replace lost gate receipts and the controversial parachute payments, which provide a percentage of broadcast revenue to relegated top-flight clubs for three years, would also be scrapped.
Instead, 25% of TV money would filter down to be shared among all EFL clubs.
A new democracy?
Probably the most controversial aspect of the plans – the proposals would also rewrite the Premier League’s current voting structure.
At present each club has an equal status and that means any new rules or regulations require the support of at least two-thirds of clubs (14) to pass.
Nine clubs would be given ‘special voting rights’ on certain issues, based on their longevity in the Premier League – currently that is Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Southampton and West Ham.
A transfer of power would open the door for those clubs to control broadcast contracts, financial rules and even the power to veto takeover bids at rival clubs.
‘Supportive’ or an ‘unashamed power grab’ – fans’ perspective
Peter Collins: I am supportive of money cascading down the pyramid. I don’t mind the Premier League cutting to 18 teams (although a shame). Similar with Community Shield, and EFL Cup, although would prefer to retain EFL Cup for non-European competition competing teams. Don’t change the voting system. Please. Keep it fair.
Matt Canning: The proposals from Liverpool and Man Utd are disgraceful, they don’t even come close. Removal of parachute payments will mean promoted clubs would not be able to attract players due to the risk of being relegated and no longer being able to afford their wages.
Mike Woods: A lot of the proposals make sense, but it would be silly to miss out on a chance to make further change. With so many clubs struggling financially, EFL should look at scrapping League One and Two and replacing them with separate North and South divisions.
Matt Deeks: Why don’t we form a six-team Super League for the top six to play each other and exclude them from the PL? The PL will be way more competitive and fairer as the top six, and their billions of spending, will not be contending the trophy. Then give the TV money to the EFL.
Kieran C: Anyone that thinks it’s OK that established successful clubs have the power to veto takeovers of those trying to improve their circumstances does not have the interest of the game at heart.
Will: It’s an unashamed power grab by those clubs with the most money and laughs in the face of democracy. How about a 10% transfer tax, with money going to EFL clubs that need it the most?
Kieran Maguire, football finance expert on BBC Radio 5 live
People have been negotiating this deal for three years so it’s not a response to Covid – this has been coming, but Covid-19 is a Trojan horse for the introduction of these proposals.
Some people are trying to promote this as Manchester United and Liverpool being a combination of Father Christmas and Mother Teresa, but that’s not the case as they are the clubs that will benefit the most financially from this.
They will be able to sell lucrative rights themselves, have the benefit of an expanded Champions League and also be able to go on lucrative pre-season international friendly tours.
There’s no doubt major clubs in Europe are pushing for some changes to the Champions League and they are scheduled to come in between 2024 and 2025.
Any opportunity for Premier League clubs to play more matches [in the Champions League] is simply impossible with 20 teams in the Premier League, the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup and the Community Shield. This is a way to clear space for an extended European competition, which would benefit those clubs.
The claim that this would benefit the England team is absolutely nonsense. Players will not be playing fewer fixtures, just fewer Premier League fixtures.
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