The 3pm Saturday afternoon slot is the “obvious gap” in which women’s football could be broadcast live on television regularly, according to the findings of the extensive Government-commissioned review into the future of the women’s game, chaired by former England international Karen Carney.

No games can currently be shown live on a standard Saturday afternoon at that time because of a specified blackout period, but the review says those regulations were “not designed with the women’s game in mind” and, although adding that the footballing authorities should be the ones to decide the next steps, says there is an “opportunity” for them to agree to exempt the women’s game from that blackout.

Among the 128-page-long review’s key recommendations, it calls for The FA, the Premier League, the EFL and broadcasters to “work together to carve out a new dedicated broadcast slot for women’s football”, after gathering evidence from clubs, players, fans and other stakeholders.

Speaking at a press conference shortly before the review was published, former England international Carney said: “It’s been very clear that we need to find a slot that’s specific to women’s football. At the moment it’s really saturated and the time slots are not really working.”

However, Carney added that she was not directly calling for the 3pm blackout to be scrapped, adding: “I could be really, really punchy and go after a big headline, but there could be cons for going and being aggressive when realistically, the biggest issue for me that we want to go after is professionalising the women’s game and bringing those standards up because that’s a big problem.”

That perceived need to raise professional standards, facilities and contracts forms a key part of the review’s findings, and among the other main recommendations is a call for the second tier of the English pyramid, the Women’s Championship, to become fully professional and to receive funded, full-union representation.

In response to the review, the Professional Footballers Association’s CEO, Maheta Molango, said: “Karen Carney’s report is a brave, ambitious and detailed plan for the future of women’s game which, crucially, has players at its heart. The report recommends that union representation for players in the WSL and the Women’s Championship should now be fully and comprehensively funded by the Football Association, as it would be in other countries where proper Collective Bargaining Agreements are in place between players and governing bodies.

“That’s a major step forward which, alongside the recommendation that the Women’s Championship should become fully professional, will allow us to enhance and expand the services we provide to players.”

FA should equalise men’s and women’s prize money, says review

The review also urges the FA to level the prize money given to the men’s and women’s FA Cups, with the men’s competition currently having almost a £20 million prize pot compared to just under £3 million for the women’s prize fund.

“Equalising the prize money in the FA Cup is something the FA is in the position to address, and would send a powerful message on equality,” the review states, and it highlights tennis as an example of a sport with equal prize money at its Grand Slam events.

The review also says the FA should hand over the running of the WSL and Championship to a specially created subsidiary (NewCo), a process that is already underway, but in terms of an independent regulator for the women’s game — which was one of the biggest recommendations of Tracey Crouch’s corresponding review into the men’s game — is not something Carney is immediately calling for.

“Right now we’re saying ‘give it [the women’s game] a chance to self-regulate’,” Carney explained. “That’s what my stance would be. I’m not saying that [an independent regulator] is off the table, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any regulation, and I’m also saying we should learn from previous mistakes. But while something is new, while something is developing, it should be given the opportunity.”

Amongst the reviews other recommendations, it calls on:

  • The Government to deliver on its recent commitment to provide equal access to sport in PE for girls
  • The FA to “urgently address” a lack of diversity across the women’s game, on and off the pitch
  • All WSL and Championship clubs to employ a supporter liaison officer, have dedicated marketing resources and focus on increasing the number of matches they play in their club’s main stadia

Now the review has been published, what happens next?

It is not immediately clear whether or not a Government White Paper will follow on from this review, nor how binding Carney’s recommendations will be, nor to what extent they can be strictly enforced. However, there has been a feeling within the women’s game for many months that this was a crucial review that would be listened to carefully, on the basis of how comprehensively clubs, leagues and players were spoken to within the evidence-finding and research phase.

Yet, how quickly, if at all, there might be a resolution in the search for a new, regular broadcast slot for the women’s game, is hard to forecast, and nor is is clear yet whether the FA will be prepared to bring equal FA Cup prize money anytime soon, with such a policy likely to be seen as controversial by a lot of men’s teams.

But in terms of the next steps for the WSL and the Championship, some of the wheels are already in motion, with a new club-led company (NewCo) being created and set to take over the running of the top two divisions from next summer.

The review is clear in that it advises that NewCo should be given a chance to show it can run the elite women’s game responsibly. That means, for now, figures such as incoming chief executive of NewCo, businesswoman Nikki Doucet, is set to become one of the most powerful people in English football.