World Events

Premier League Reform Plan Would Shrink League to 18 Clubs

The current plan promises 250 million pounds ($326 million) in emergency funding from the Premier League to the three professional divisions immediately below it, and a pledge that those leagues would receive 25 percent of the total income of the Premier League from the first season under the new framework, which the reform plan’s backers hope would be as early as the 2022-23 season.

The Premier League currently requires the consent of 14 of its 20 clubs to approve decisions large and small, a setup that has strained the bond between the biggest teams and the rest. Under the reform proposal, a group of as many as nine of the longest serving members of the Premier League would have greater say over how it is run, including the right to veto new owners from buying control of clubs in the league.

To sweeten the deal, the plan also promises to share money with another key stakeholder: England’s Football Association. To secure its approval, or at least fend off its opposition, the F.A., which governs the sport in England, would receive a one-time payment of 100 million pounds ($130 million) to help mitigate the damage inflicted on its finances by the coronavirus pandemic.

That Liverpool and Manchester United are at the heart of the reform movement immediately led to criticism on social media, with fans and commentators suggesting the two clubs are looking to further entrench their interests and positions atop global soccer.

The push to reduce the league to 18 teams mirrors the views of Andrea Agnelli, the president of the Italian champion Juventus and the leader of the influential European Club Association, a lobby group for top division teams. Agnelli has said that he favors reducing the size of domestic leagues in order to create space for more meaningful games between Europe’s elite teams, but he also has been one of the biggest proponents of shifting power in European soccer to the clubs that dominate it.

One of the drivers behind the Premier League proposal, beyond increasing the power of the wealthiest teams, is to reduce cases of risk-taking by clubs in the second-tier Championship as they try to win promotion to the Premier League. Access can bring huge rewards, in the form of television and sponsorship revenues and even so-called parachute payments — worth tens of millions of dollars for years — if they are relegated back to the Championship.

The problem, English soccer has found, is eager teams have at times piled up huge losses in the hope of building a squad capable of reaching the Premier League or competing with rivals who have, reaped that windfall, and then returned.


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