Football: English Football League proposes reform to cut sport’s wealth gap but plan rejected by EPL

Football: English Football League proposes reform to cut sport’s wealth gap but plan rejected by EPL

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – The English Football League (EFL) has unveiled a series of proposals to overhaul competitive soccer in the country and narrow a yawning wealth gap between elite clubs and lower-ranking teams that has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive Rick Parry has been in talks with both Manchester United and Liverpool over radical proposals to reduce the league in size from 20 clubs to 18, scrap the League Cup and Community Shield and re-organise the financial distribution of revenue and voting rights.

The plan also includes a Covid-19 relief payment of £350 million (S$617.5 million) from the Premier League to the 72 EFL clubs in the three divisions below the top flight.

“The revenues flowing from the investment and work of our top clubs has been largely limited to the top division, creating a sort of lottery,” EFL Chairman Parry said in a statement on Sunday (Oct 11).

The proposals include diverting 25 per cent of media revenue from the top-flight Premier League, which includes “super clubs” with international followings like United and Liverpool.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper first reported the proposed reforms on Sunday.

English football is dominated by a “big six” of clubs including Manchester United and Liverpool which play in the 20-member Premier League. Because these teams have huge global followings and generate vast revenues, they are substantially richer than their counterparts in the EFL, some of which face a funding crisis.

The reforms, dubbed “Project Big Picture,” aim to reduce the financial gap between the bottom of the Premier League and the top of the EFL, according to the statement.

“Now is the time to address both the long-term health of the game and the most challenging short-term crisis it has ever faced,” Parry said.

The Premier League released a statement after the Telegraph’s report was published stating some of the proposals “could have a damaging impact” on the English game.

“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,” it said. “This work will continue.”

Parry said he welcomed United and Liverpool backing a plan to help the EFL but hit back at the Premier League and the UK government on Sunday after they criticised his plan.

“We don’t apologise for having dialogue with two of our major clubs who have come forward and suggested it,” Parry told reporters.

“The Premier League could have come up with proposals at any stage, they could have solved the short-term issue of our rescue funding a lot quicker, for whatever reason they haven’t, so we are where we are.

“Frankly, am I disappointed that I have taken what on the face of it is a great idea to our clubs? No, I am not and it was an idea that needed to come out. Clearly there will be a huge amount of debate but this is about coming up with a bold plan for the future and if that doesn’t please everybody, frankly, so be it.”

The UK government’s Department of Culture Media and Sport also came out against the plan but Parry said that would not cause a rethink.

“It doesn’t make it a non-starter at all. The merits of the idea, I think still shine through. Fans have been considered in this,” he said. “It is absolutely about saving the pyramid so I frankly find it really difficult to reconcile our thoughts on this with the government’s position. But it is not going to deter us.”

Parry said the changes were needed because of “a chasm which has become unbridgeable for clubs transitioning between the EFL and the Premier League”.

The EFL chairman was unable to say whether the other four members of the ‘big six’, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were fully in support of the plan.

He accepted that the proposal would likely meet opposition from clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League but urged them to consider the health of the entire football pyramid.