The Premier League chairman and chief executive held a meeting with just the big six clubs to discuss the fallout from the publication of the Project Big Picture proposals without informing all 14 other clubs, the Guardian has learned.
The meeting – held by the chairman, Gary Hoffman, and the chief executive, Richard Masters, with senior representatives of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs – was held on Tuesday 13 October, two days after the plans were published in the Telegraph, and a day before a scheduled meeting of all Premier League clubs.
Senior figures at some of the 14 clubs are understood to be furious that the meeting was held without them, and that they were not told about it before or afterwards. That has added to a growing dissatisfaction among the 14 not only over the development of Project Big Picture without their knowledge, but at not being kept informed by Hoffman and Masters.
An executive at one of the 14 clubs told the Guardian that at the full club meeting, of Wednesday 14 October, he had believed that Hoffman was as shocked about the plans as all of them when they were published. He said none of the clubs were aware until later that Masters had been invited to join the talks at the beginning and declined, then been kept sporadically updated that they were continuing for months. Nor were they told Hoffman had in fact been given a copy, by Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman, who was involved in Project Big Picture from the beginning.
The Premier League confirmed Hoffman had not told the 14 clubs that he had a copy, nor that he had emailed the big six in positive terms on 8 October, before the leak. As the Guardian has revealed, Hoffman told the big six that he wanted to be involved in the discussions and build support for change, saying the executive team, led by Masters, had their own ideas and plans, “many of which already align with ‘Big Picture’”.
When the proposals were published on 11 October, the Premier League did not make clear that it had known about the process at all, or that Hoffman had a copy and had responded positively to the big six. In a statement, the Premier League said it had “seen media reports” about the plans, and condemned them, saying “a number of the individual proposals … could have a damaging impact on the whole game”.
The furore that followed publication of the plans – principally a concentration of voting power with the big six and 25% sharing of net TV revenues with the EFL – largely erupted on the understanding that they been worked up by John Henry, the majority owner of Liverpool, with Rick Parry, the EFL chairman, and Joel Glazer, of Manchester United. Many Premier League clubs are understood to have been unaware before, during and after their full club meeting of 14 October that Greg Clarke, the Football Association chairman, had initiated the talks in January with Buck, or that they had then invited Manchester United, Liverpool, Parry and Masters to join.
At the meeting of the big six on 13 October, Hoffman is said to have asked them to agree to a strategic review which would address the various issues underlying the Project Big Picture proposals. At the full meeting the following day, at which some of the other 14 expressed their dismay at the plans having been developed in an apparently clandestine way, all the Premier League clubs agreed to the strategic review. That is seen by some among the 14 as a major concession to the big six, who can push for major change.
A senior executive at one of the 14 clubs said: “Some of the clubs are furious. When it came out in the Telegraph, Gary Hoffman should have said that he had been aware of the plans and had a copy, but we weren’t told that. I certainly wasn’t told they were meeting with the ‘big six’, and only them, to ask for agreement on a strategic review.”
A Premier League spokesman acknowledged that clubs had not been told about the Project Big Picture discussions over the eight months after Masters was first invited in February, and that Hoffman had not told the 14 clubs that he had a copy, or had emailed the big six, before they were leaked and published. He said, however, that some of the 14, although not all, had been informed about the meeting with the big six before Hoffman and Masters met them on 13 October.