Is Project Big Picture mutating?

The shape of European football is undeniably going to change over the next few years. Unlike the consequences of many issues looming on the horizon, that has nothing to do with Brexit but the desire from UEFA and the European Clubs Association (ECA) to increase the potential revenue from broadcasters and sponsors.

Many will recall the outcry during the summer concerning Project Big Picture and what was perceived as a power grab by the ‘Big Six’ clubs in the Premier League. At the time, some of us saw this a pre-emptive attempt to reform the structure of the English game, in order to allow greater accessibility for the top clubs to European competitions – although dressed up as a way to hand out some of the abundant wealth to the lower reaches of the football pyramid.

UEFA has awoken from its Covid slumber to rekindle the process of reform. The negotiations over the 2021-24 broadcasting rights have to be decided post-haste and changes to the structure of competitions post-24 are gathering momentum.

In early December, many media channels published articles on the latest proposals for the reform of the Champion’s League, with the ‘Swiss System’ being the latest favourite in what is seen as an attempt to quash any further notions of a Euro Super League. This would see the group stages comprising four groups of nine teams, with each club playing 10 matches (five home and away) but not playing all of the teams in the same group, as matches would be decided by a draw with some form of ceding.

Not unsurprisingly, there has been no sign of the inclusion of supporters in any of the renewed dialogue with stakeholders – this despite assurances from UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin that there would be.

Full details are yet to emerge, as are the means of qualification. It is understood most of Europe’s top clubs are still in favour of this being on merit – despite calls to the contrary from certain proponents of the Super League. To appease this faction, at least two places could be held open to those teams that have the highest UEFA coefficient points score.

At the time of writing, Bayern Munich on 127 points and Barcelona on 121 are the top two, with Juventus and Real Madrid close behind. The remainder of the top ten are easy to guess, with Manchester City being the highest placed English club on 110 points. Just for comparison, Leicester lie in 49th place with 31 points – a long way to go before we are heralded with a free pass to European football.

However, no matter how the Euro competitions are reorganised, there remains the issue of how the riches yielded are distributed. In the weeks running up to Christmas, German supporter groups were calling for UEFA to ensure the competitiveness of leagues by increasing the solidarity payments derived from broadcast revenues. 

The Football Supporters Association (FSA) lobbied Football Supporters Europe (FSE) with concerns and it agreed to issue an immediate statement that centres on reminding all concerned (not least the clubs and the European Leagues as well as UEFA) of the six principles that both FSA and FSE agreed last year, whilst making a public call for the promise to engage with supporters to be honoured as a matter of urgency. The statement includes three commissioned quotes from supporter groups representing different countries on the importance of fans that Covid has demonstrated, the call for engagement and the importance of revenue sharing:

The early months of 2021 will no doubt see plans for the Europa League begin to emerge. The last round of proposals was for a 64-club competition divided into two leagues.

UEFA decisions are decided on a one member, one vote system (the FA carry English football’s vote). As important as the statement is, FSE has also agreed to consider how fans actually make our case to UEFA (UEFA will only negotiate with the FSE and not country-based supporter groups) and the other interested parties when asked to. That means putting some flesh onto the six principles and expectations of dialogue that enable supporters to input into that plan and its delivery.