MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Proposals from Liverpool, Manchester United and the Football League (EFL) for major changes to the structure of the Premier League were met with swift criticism from England’s top flight on Sunday and the UK government and fans.
Liverpool and United are backing a plan to radically change the Premier League’s structure, giving more power to the big clubs, reducing it from 20 clubs to 18 for the 2022-23 season and scrapping the League Cup and Community Shield.
The plan would see the Premier League commit to providing 25% of the league’s revenue to Football League (EFL) clubs and a 250 million-pound rescue fund to help with the immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The plans, dubbed “Project Big Picture”, have been put together by Liverpool’s American owners Fenway Sports Group, with support from United’s Florida-based owners the Glazer family.
Manchester United and Liverpool did not respond to a request for comment.
EFL chairman Rick Parry said the reforms were needed to address “a chasm which has become unbridgeable” between the second tier and the Premier League.
But it was not clear how many Premier League or EFL clubs had been consulted about the proposals and the Premier League itself was critical of the plans.
“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 league said in a statement.
The Premier League said it supported a “wide-ranging discussion on the future of the game” including competition structures, calendar and finances.
“Football has many stakeholders, therefore this work should be carried out through the proper channels enabling all clubs and stakeholders the opportunity to contribute,” the statement added.
A spokesperson for the Department of Culture Media and Sport, the UK ministry responsible for football matters, also took a critical stance.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
“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.”
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) also came out against the plan.
“Once again it appears that big decisions in football are apparently being stitched up behind our backs by billionaire club owners who continue to treat football as their personal fiefdom,” the FSA said in a statement.
The proposal includes 8.5% of annual net league revenue to go on “good causes” including the Football Association.
The 25% of remaining Premier League and Football League revenue would go to EFL clubs. This would replace the current system of “parachute payments” to clubs relegated from the Premier League.
The plan does not, however, call for the top six to be given a greater share of television revenue.
Parry, the former Premier League and Liverpool chief executive who has expressed concern about the state of EFL club’s finances, said there needed to be change.
“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 (big) six get some benefits but the 72 also do, we are up for it,” he told The Telegraph.
The proposal is likely to meet with resistance from smaller Premier League clubs, especially the idea of a change to the “one club, one vote” system, in place since the league was formed, as a breakaway from the Football League, in 1992.
The plan calls for the nine clubs with the longest continued presence in the league, which includes the “big six”, to be given “long-term share-holder” status and the ability to make changes with the support of six of the nine.
As well as reducing in size from 20 clubs to 18, there would be a change to the promotion and relegation exchange with the second-tier Championship.
The bottom two clubs would be automatically relegated from the Premier League and replaced with the top two from the Championship.
The 16th-placed Premier League club would go into a playoff with the Championship’s third, fourth and fifth-placed teams.
The plan would need the support of 14 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs to be approved.
Reporting by Simon Evans,; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond
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