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The FA face a major battle with the rest of British football to get the 3pm Saturday TV blackout lifted for the Women’s Super League next season.
In what could become the next big division in the sport following the impending agreement of a new funding package for the lower divisions, the FA want dispensation from UEFA sto lift the blackout for the women’s game, which will be relaunched next season with a rebranded WSL and Championships run by the clubs.
The issue is particularly pressing as the WSL’s existing TV deal with Sky and the BBC expires in the summer and the tender for the next contract is due to be issued next month, which will require clarity on kick-off times for broadcasters.
The blackout is controlled by UEFA via Article 48 of its statutes, which stipulate that no live football can be broadcast in England and Scotland between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday afternoon. A joint application from the FA and Scottish FA led to UEFA removing the blackout temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic when matches took place behind closed doors, but it was swiftly reimposed when crowds returned.
The FA want the Saturday 3pm TV blackout lifted so WSL matches can be shown in the slot
But the Premier League, EFL and Scottish Football League are thought to be opposed to the move
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In their response to Karen Carney’s women’s football review published earlier this week the government supported the former England midfield player’s calls for a bespoke broadcast slot and described lifting the 3pm blackout as ‘viable option’ that would ‘significantly increase its broadcast and commercial revenue’.
To complicate matters however, the government-backed independent regulator for football that is due to created next year will not cover the women’s game so it is unclear how much influence can be exerted from Westminster.
The FA have already begun lobbying fellow stakeholders, but face an uphill battle to win the argument with a united approach required to persuade UEFA to make the historic change.
The EFL and SPL remain staunchly supportive of a complete blackout due to their desire to protect match-day attendances and grassroots football, while there is also concern that lifting it for the women’s game would lead to pressure for the men’s game to follow suit.
The Premier League share similar concerns, and given they yesterday announced a new £6.7billion domestic TV deal with Sky Sports and TNT Sport with the blackout in place are in no rush to tinker with a model that is working. One Premier League source pointed out that no other sport has a protected broadcast slot and questioned why an exception should be made for women’s football.
Sky have a similar view and would have little interest in showing WSL games at 3pm on Saturday’s due to the clash with their flagship result and reports programme, Soccer Saturday. TNT Sport however would be interested in buying Saturday afternoon fixtures.
The FA’s view is that the 3pm blackout was never intended to apply to the women’s game when it was introduced in the 1960s as a way of protecting attendances, and that it is adversely affecting the commercial growth of the sport.
If a compromise cannot be reached the only other available broadcast slot for the WSL is Sunday evenings, although that is not attractive for the family audiences that comprise its key market.
The plans would require support from both the Premier League and English Football League