Soccer

FA exploring whether Saturday 3pm TV blackout could be lifted for women’s game

The FA could push for women’s matches to be exempt from the Saturday afternoon blackout, Baroness Sue Campbell has said (Will Matthews/PA)
The FA could push for women’s matches to be exempt from the Saturday afternoon blackout, Baroness Sue Campbell has said (Will Matthews/PA) The FA could push for women’s matches to be exempt from the Saturday afternoon blackout, Baroness Sue Campbell has said (Will Matthews/PA)

The Football Association is looking at whether the women’s game could be exempted from the Saturday afternoon television blackout, Baroness Sue Campbell has told MPs.

Baroness Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, told the Culture, Media and Sport committee various options are being looked at to maximise coverage of the game on the back of the England team’s success at the Women’s Euros last summer.

One of those is giving consideration to whether the women’s game could be removed from the restriction on live football coverage between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturdays under Article 48 of the UEFA statutes, which the FA currently chooses to apply.

Baroness Sue Campbell wants viewers to be given a consistent opportunity to watch women's football
Baroness Sue Campbell wants viewers to be given a consistent opportunity to watch women's football Baroness Sue Campbell wants viewers to be given a consistent opportunity to watch women’s football (Nick Potts/PA)

Campbell said: “I think that consistent of opportunity to view the women’s game is important. It used to be, and it still is, a little bit random. We weren’t quite sure what time and what day you were going to be able to turn on and see it.

“We need to get some consistency. We have been exploring Article 48, which when it was put in practice was there for men’s football, we’d like to see could the women have that slot on television?

“But whatever we do we need a regular opportunity to view the game which people can access, and we need to recognise that we have a younger audience, so sticking it on in an evening might not be the best time.”

The Saturday blackout will not be affected by the EFL’s new deal with Sky Sports starting in 2024-25, but the league did receive a rival offer from the streaming service DAZN which would have required the restriction to be lifted.

The Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters said in March that his organisation was a proponent of Article 48 and did not see that changing in the near term. The English top flight is set to begin its tender process for the next three-year domestic rights cycle starting from 2025-26 this autumn.

Former England forward Ellen White agreed with Campbell that an innovative approach was required at the same hearing.

“I think we need to look at grassroots football, when that’s being played, so we can maximise the amount of families and young people that are coming to games,” she said.

“Sunday at 6.45 in the evening like Sue said, schools (open the next day), then again on a Saturday at 11am a lot of grassroots football teams play, so you’re destroying the viewership then, and also the amount of bums on seats in the stadium as well.

“So I think we need to look at a good day and a good time to really maximise our audiences, to get bums on seats and to grow our fanbase.”

White did not agree with the idea that one way to make the women’s game more financially sustainable would be to introduce a US-style closed league.

Ellen White said it was important to find a slot in the schedules which works for the women's game
Ellen White said it was important to find a slot in the schedules which works for the women's game Ellen White said it was important to find a slot in the schedules which works for the women’s game (Nigel French/PA)

“I wouldn’t agree with it because you’ve got clubs in the Championship or lower than that, and what have they got to strive for?” she said.

“For me it’s really exciting and gives a lot of opportunity for the teams in the Championship and the pyramid to try and develop and prove and push themselves that they want to be part of the Women’s Super League. I don’t think the country would want to move away from that.”

Campbell said the United States was able to operate that system because of its highly-developed high school and university programmes, and to replicate that in England would “cut the head off the body” of the women’s game.

Meanwhile, the chair of a different parliamentary committee has written to boot manufacturers over the lack of products designed specifically for women and girls.

Caroline Nokes, the chair of the Women and Equalities committee, has written to brands including Adidas and Nike after evidence was given to her committee about the disproportionate impact of anterior cruciate ligament injuries to female footballers.

Leah Williamson has been ruled out of this summer's World Cup by an ACL injury
Leah Williamson has been ruled out of this summer's World Cup by an ACL injury Leah Williamson has been ruled out of this summer’s World Cup by an ACL injury (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Campbell said ACL injuries accounted for two per cent of injuries female players suffered but accepted they could be “catastrophic” for the individual when they did occur.

“I’ve asked repeatedly, ‘Can somebody tell me the cause of this?’ and of course it’s complex – is it wearing men’s shoes, is it the training surfaces, the over-stressed calendar with not enough rest? Is it the kind of physical conditioning that people are doing?” Campbell said.

“We’re encouraging more research. We’re funding more research. If we haven’t got healthy, well looked after elite players then we’re failing the game.”