Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football Association, told senior representatives of the Premier League and its major six teams that he backed the clubs’ attempts to gain more voting rights for TV packages, the Guardian was told by club insiders.
In the meeting called by the chairman of the league, Gary Hoffman, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal on Tuesday, October 13, two days after the leaked ‘Project Big Picture’ proposals were released in the Telegraph, Clarke is said to have made his supporting remarks. Richard Masters, chief executive of The Premier League, also attended.
According to club sources, Hoffman assured the clubs that he appreciated their case for the Project Big Picture plan that nine longer-term club members of the Premier League, with six having a majority, could regulate voting on “strategic matters” such as TV deals. The suggested move to “governance,” as it was called by the Project Big Picture party, was sparked by the dissatisfaction of big clubs to be outvoted by the other 14 on overseas TV deals, three of whom are relegated from the league every season so drop out.
It is known that one club delegate at the meeting said that 10 smaller clubs are worried about their short-term existence in the Premier League and not about long-term problems, so the shift in governance was important to encourage a long-range perspective.
“In the 13 October meeting, Clarke, who launched the Project Big Picture method in January by inviting representatives of some top team in Premier League and the EFL and the Premier League to discussions-Masters refused to participate-is said to have agreed:” You don’t care about value formation. Governance is necessary because individuals want distribution rather than expansion.
The Guardian assured the FA that Clarke specifically advocated a transition to “governance”-voting rights-so that the Premier League will pursue longer-term revenue development of TV rights, rather than making individuals in smaller clubs search for the most cash to be instantly allocated to them. The FA refused to comment.
The FA released its letter to the FA council on the same day that Clarke shared his opinions in a meeting with Hoffman, Masters, and the six clubs. He said in it that he had “participated in early Project Big Picture talks,” but had “discontinued” his participation in late spring “because the key goal of these discussions was to consolidate power and money in the hands of a few clubs with a breakaway league mooted as a hazard.”
In reality, as the Guardian has reported, after the Liverpool majority owner, John Henry, approached him in late September, Clarke started the process, attended every meeting as the proposals were created, cited the European or global breakaway challenge itself as an incentive to affect progress, and had discussions about resurrecting the stalled plans.
At the 13 October conference, Hoffman is said to have assured the six clubs that he accepted the case that strategic problems are better discussed by long-standing “shareholders.” The Premier League claimed, and insists, that Hoffman told the clubs that the phase of Project Big Picture was unethical and had to end, but club sources say Hoffman told them that their task was “fair and completely legitimate,” and that he and Masters were willing participants.
Hoffman invited the clubs to engage in a strategic proposal for the Premier League, which was later decided upon by all 20 clubs at a full meeting the next day. The club sources say Hoffman assured them that their concerns will be resolved in the strategic analysis, including the argument for “governance” voting control reform.
Masters is understood to have said that he did not agree with the move to nine voting-controlled teams, but acknowledged that some of the overseas TV agreements were not acceptable and that TV wanted a “more responsive model” for the Premier League.
Hoffman is said to have told the clubs that because the major clubs were seen as leveraging the coronavirus epidemic, the timing of Project Big Picture was “terrible.” The Premier League defied the manifesto pledge of the government to hold a “fan-led analysis” of the governance of the game, he is understood to have said, but now “accelerated negotiations” have been held for it to happen.
Oliver Dowden, the Minister of Culture, had given a sign the day before, dismissing the leaked plans as a “power grab” and claiming that recent developments made the fan-led investigation “look urgent.”
Asked by the Guardian about the meeting on 13 October, the Premier League maintained that Hoffman had told the big six clubs that the Project Big Picture mechanism was unacceptable and emphasized that he did not agree with the plans for the “governance” vote change, but refused to comment about what else was said.
The FA refused to comment.