Premier League taps BCG for strategic review of English football

20 November 2020 4 min. read
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English football’s highest division has tapped consultants from Boston Consulting Group to review the sport’s league system.

Beyond the hyper-inflated broadcast revenues of the English Premier League, a succession of English Football Clubs (EFL) clubs had already fallen into administration over the last two years, with the unsustainable spending of owners looking to push small clubs into more lucrative leagues left clubs like Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC high and dry.

However, the coronavirus pandemic and the knock-on effect of fans not being allowed into grounds has led to clubs in football’s lower tiers feeling the financial pinch on an unprecedented level.

Earlier in the autumn, this saw the controversial proposition of Project Big Picture from the Premier League, as the EFL sought a bailout from English football’s wealthier top division. Driven by EFL Chair Rick Parry alongside several of football’s richest clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester United, the proposal suggested that the EFL would sell its broadcast rights alongside those of the top flight, taking 25% of the proceeds to beef up its sustainability in future – as well as receiving a £250 million advance on those payments to help survive the current crisis.Rchard Masters, Chief Executive, Premier LeagueWhile this potential redistribution of wealth initially seemed in the interests of English football, however, it came with a number of stipulations regarding the governance of the league system. These included downsizing the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams, changing relegation and promotion to make it more difficult for teams to drop out of the top flight, and the jettisoning of the League Cup, which is run by the EFL.

More significantly though, Project Big Picture proposed that the nine longest serving Premier League teams (the so-called big six of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, as well as Everton, West Ham and Southampton) would be given preferential voting rights.

This would mean only six of English football’s wealthiest teams would need to agree in order to approve any change in the rules governing English league football, or, alternatively, veto them. Until this point the Premier League has decided every change on a one club, one vote basis. A majority vote of 14 has been required for action to take place, but this would no longer be the case under Project Big Picture, and while briefing documents suggested that the voting power of “long-term shareholders” would only be effective in certain areas, they are crucial ones – while once approved, could conceivably be extended in future.

Amid accusations of England’s wealthiest clubs using the Covid-19 crisis to engineer a dramatic “power grab”, talks ultimately collapsed, with Premier Leagues using their current veto powers to shoot the deal down. Meanwhile, EFL clubs have since collectively agreed to accept a separate offer from the Premier League to pay a £50 million bailout for teams in League One and League Two. The offer currently includes unconditional funding – a split between loans and grants totalling £50 million – to clubs in League One and League Two, while Championship teams have been invited by the Premier League to apply for hardship funds on a case by case basis.

Strategic review

While, for now, the situation seems to have been resolved, however, a review commissioned by the Premier League in February suggests many of its goals may still be weighed up by the league's leadership. According to reports in the British press, the Premier League’s board has appointed Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to assist with a review of English football. BCG – which is headquartered in the city that is also home of Liverpool’s American owners – has promised to deliver their initial recommendations by December.

The review’s newly published terms of reference seem to have some similarities with Project Big Picture. These include discussions on optimising league structure, value in the domestic calendar, the future of domestic cup competitions, and the Premier League’s governance model. A note from Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters meanwhile reinforced this, warning clubs that the review could herald dramatic changes in the key areas of league structure, fixture calendar and broadcasting deals.

BCG has previously engaged with other football leagues looking to overhaul their business model. Most notably this saw the firm engaged by Major League Soccer (MLS), wide-ranging, which commissioned a top-to-bottom look at nearly every element of league operations. BCG’s recommendations in all areas of the study have since been used as a roadmap to inform the league’s business and competitive moves in the years following its completion.