Well over a month after Project Big Picture was dominating football headlines, very little has been actioned to assuage the fears of football clubs up and down the country that their future is under threat. As the global pandemic has starved lower league football of their primary sources of income, the new proposal came at a perilous and dangerous time for the future and sustainability of the English Football League. The pandemic undoubtedly stretched Premier League clubs too, showing just how financially damaging 2020 has been on one of the wealthiest industries this country has to offer. Whether it was through redundancies or the use of the Furlough scheme, clubs have had to find quickfire solutions. Nevertheless, Premier League clubs spent a total of £1.27bn in the summer transfer window this year.

The wealth gap between the top and bottom of the professional game is vast. The plan, forwarded by the hierarchies at Liverpool and Manchester United, proposed a number of radical changes including adopting a Bundesliga-style 18 team league. It was swiftly yet unsurprisingly rejected by Premier League clubs. Afterall, clubs outside of the top six were always unlikely to vote in favour of changes that would see them losing their own voice when it comes to key decisions. However, the leaked plans have had the effect of reopening the discourse on the economic imbalance in English football.

One of the key elements of the proposal was a large cash injection into the EFL. On the face of it, a £250 million bailout can be viewed as a lifejacket to the numerous EFL clubs that are struggling to keep afloat. The Chairman of the EFL, Rick Parry, declared from the outset that the overwhelming majority of lower league clubs were in favour of the proposals laid out by Project Big Picture.

“If they don’t get something soon, you will see clubs disappear within five to six weeks”. The picture painted by Nigel Travis, Chairman of Leyton Orient, is stark. The lack of a short-term plan for addressing the consequences of the global pandemic on the football pyramid in England has put many clubs on the brink of collapse. And with no clear plan or timescale on when fans can be safely reintroduced into stadiums, the situation seems to be getting considerably worse before it gets better. A £250 million cash injection into the EFL therefore seems nothing short of essential, yet the plans proposed in ‘Project Big Picture’ were met not just with support, but with severe scrutiny and scepticism too. An increase in power to the top clubs in England would see the end of the ‘one club one vote’ system, would allow the top clubs in the Premier League to further monetise their large overseas fanbases and ultimately, make the transition to becoming a ‘big club’ even harder.

The controversial plan has highlighted the need for action when it comes to helping the clubs in the divisions below the Premier League. In response to the rejection of the plans, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said in a pre-match press conference that it is the Premier League’s “obligation to protect the grass roots” of English football. Indeed, Richard Masters, the Premier League’s chief executive, confirmed that a total of £77.2million has been committed to League’s One and Two to help ease the burden of empty stadiums and huge losses throughout the two leagues. For Masters, it was essential to separate long-term EFL solidarity from a shorter term EFL rescue. Considerably less than the grant that project Big Picture was to guarantee to the EFL, there are doubts over how far that money would go.

The pandemic has merely exacerbated an already present problem. Talking to the Monday Night Club on BBC 5 Live Sport, Nigel Travis described how 75% of clubs were losing money even before Covid-19 struck. And while the Premier League have declared their openness to finding a solution to bailing out the EFL, there had been no concrete, tangible plans of how to do so. It was therefore irresistible for lower league clubs to support the proposals. Project Big Picture therefore appeals as a ‘something is better than nothing’ scheme. In the immediacy, the EFL would have been granted money that would save clubs that would otherwise be in real danger of running out of cash and going into administration. For those propelling the proposal, a shorter-term financial hit would be subsidised and sweetened by the increase of power that could have led to the widening of an already large gap between the richest clubs in the country and everyone else.

In a utopian world, the interests of the bigger clubs would not prevent the vital cash injections needed to keep the life blood of English football alive. Gary Neville and the seven others involved in the more recent ‘Our Beautiful Game’ project have called for an independent regulator to redress the economic imbalance within the pyramid. It suggests that governmental intervention is essential in making the EFL bailout from the Premier League not have the baggage of a power grab by the bigger clubs. Our Beautiful Game welcomed some of the core principles of Big Picture. For the Gillingham chairman, Paul Scally, the revenue share proposal outlined in Big Picture is also evidence that Project Big Picture would have had longer term benefits to the EFL too. Indeed, the EFL’s decision in 1995 to reject a revenue share offer from the Premier League is viewed by some as the core reason that lower league clubs still find themselves so devoid of money today.

Huge differences in TV money is likely to always be at the centre of the financial disparity in the game. It is broadcast revenue that has been so essential in propping up clubs throughout the pandemic. While the plans were rejected and divided opinion when it comes to the motives behind the proposals, an essential conversation has emerged. Premier League club’s may in the future look to continue to consolidate their authority at the top of the football pyramid. The effects of the pandemic on the bottom end of the pyramid have shown the necessity of money reaching the lower leagues. Rescue funds will need to be followed up by a cohesive, all-inclusive plan that encompasses the Government, the Premier League and the FA, which promises the long-term sustainability of the English Football League. Not accepting Project Big Picture is one thing; doing nothing is not an acceptable alternative.