The Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, told senior representatives of the Premier League and its big six clubs that he supported the clubs’ efforts to secure greater voting power for TV deals, club sources have told the Guardian.
Clarke is said to have made his supportive remark in the meeting called by the league’s chairman, Gary Hoffman, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal on Tuesday 13 October, two days after the leaked “Project Big Picture” plans were published in the Telegraph. The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, also attended.
According to club sources, Hoffman told the clubs that he understood their argument for the Project Big Picture proposal that voting on “strategic issues”, such as TV deals, should be controlled by nine longer-term club members of the Premier League, with six carrying a majority. That proposed change to “governance”, as the Project Big Picture group termed it, was prompted by big clubs’ frustration at being outvoted on overseas TV deals by the other 14, three of whom are relegated every season so drop out of the league.
One club representative in the meeting is understood to have said that 10 smaller clubs think about their short term survival in the Premier League and not about long-term issues, so the change in governance was needed to enable a long-range view.
Clarke, who initiated the Project Big Picture process in January by inviting to discussions representatives of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, the EFL and the Premier League – Masters declined to attend – is said to have agreed in the 13 October meeting: “You don’t talk about value creation. Governance is key because people want distributions rather than growth.”
The Guardian put to the FA that Clarke was clearly supporting a change to “governance” – voting rights – so that the Premier League would seek longer-term creation of value in TV rights, rather than having people at smaller clubs look for the most money to be distributed to them immediately. The FA declined to comment.
On the same day that Clarke was expressing his view in the meeting with Hoffman, Masters and the six clubs, the FA published his letter to the FA council. In it he said that he had “participated in early discussions” of Project Big Picture, but had “discontinued” his involvement in late spring “when the principal aim of these discussions became the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs with a breakaway league mooted as a threat”. In fact, as the Guardian has reported, Clarke initiated the process, attended every meeting as the plans were developed, cited the European or global breakaway threat himself as an opportunity to effect change, and had talks about resurrecting the stalled plans after the Liverpool majority owner, John Henry, contacted him in late September.
Hoffman is said to have told the six clubs in the 13 October meeting that he understood the case that strategic issues are best addressed by longstanding “shareholders”. The Premier League has said, and maintains, that Hoffman told the clubs that the Project Big Picture process was improper and had to stop, but club sources say that Hoffman told them their work had been “reasonable and perfectly valid”, and that he and Masters were willing participants.
Hoffman asked the clubs to participate in a Premier League strategic plan, which all 20 clubs then agreed at a full meeting the following day. The club sources say that Hoffman told them that their issues, including the case for “governance” voting control change, would be addressed in the strategic review.
Masters is understood to have said that he did not agree with the change to nine clubs having voting control, but he did recognise that some of the overseas TV deals were not satisfactory, and that the Premier League needed to have a “more sensitive model” for TV.
Hoffman is said to have told the clubs that the timing of Project Big Picture had been “terrible” because the big clubs were seen as exploiting the coronavirus crisis. The Premier League had been resisting the government’s manifesto commitment to hold a “fan-led review” of the game’s governance, he is understood to have said, but now there were “accelerated talks” for it to happen. The culture secretary Oliver Dowden had given that indication the previous day, criticising the leaked plans as a “power grab” and saying that recent events had made the fan-led review “look urgent”.
Asked by the Guardian about the 13 October meeting, the Premier League maintained that Hoffman had told the big six clubs that the Project Big Picture process had been improper, but declined to comment on what else was said. The FA declined to comment.