Show me the merch: what’s going on with the USWNT’s World Cup jersey sales?

There are a ton of frustrating things about trying to get a Women’s World Cup jersey and that’s bad.

If you get emails from US Soccer, odds are last week you got a notification: “Jerseys back in stock!” USSF and Nike are seeking your dollars with the World Cup less than a month away, but based on the way the jerseys were rolled out, they’re not doing it as well as they could. There are some key issues with this World Cup jersey push that make it seem like USSF and Nike either don’t care enough about the USWNT or the Women’s World Cup, respectively, or simply aren’t keeping up with the evolving demand for women’s products, neither of which particularly shines a flattering light on them. At the very least, the whole thing has been done in a less-than-optimal way, and is undoubtedly costing real money as customers get frustrated. Let’s lay out some of the problems.

First, the jersey campaign launched without a 3-star red away available in a straight cut, the cut that men usually purchase. The white home jersey is available right now with three stars in both the straight and fitted cuts. The same is true for youth jerseys – the white youth jersey has three stars, but the red away does not. Here’s a screenshot of the US Soccer online store’s jersey page from Wednesday, March 9, when they first announced the jersey sale.

The same was true everywhere you looked at the time of the announcement, whether it was Nike’s online store or another online retailer. However, a call with a Nike rep Wednesday evening revealed that there WILL be a straight-cut 3-star red away jersey available for adults and a 3-star red in youth sizes in the next couple of weeks. A spokesperson for USSF said that their delay in availability was due to Nike not having the straight-cut red 3-star on their end.

Second, there’s the lack of customization. At launch, you couldn’t customize any of the jerseys you bought from the US Soccer store. Some retailers had pre-customized options with popular player names like Morgan and Heath, but the only place that allowed unlimited customization is Fanatics, as highlighted by the USWNT Players Association twitter.

The USWNT twitter account eventually tweeted that jersey customization was coming to US Soccer’s store as well, and indeed you can now customize jerseys through USSF. But why the delay? Why not do the launch right?

Third, jerseys won’t actually ship until weeks from now. USSF jersey orders right now are pre-orders, with shipping in 2-4 weeks. Retailers have the same problem, as you can see in this order for a home stadium from Fanatics, which shows an expected ship date of May 31.

The World Cup begins June 7. That’s not a lot of time for fans who are traveling to France, or even just to build hype by having people walking around in their World Cup jerseys.

And in a continuing problem, you can’t get the World Cup winners patch on USWNT jerseys, the same patch pictured above in the header showing Alex Morgan’s jersey. But champions patches are available for men’s jerseys, as you can see with this Germany 2018 jersey.

World Cup champion patches are manufactured by Unisport, which adds a layer of logistics obviously, and actually draws FIFA into the mix, as orders reportedly go through them (which makes sense, since it’s their brand). It’s uncertain who is responsible for this particular roadblock, and perhaps here it’s reasonable to lay the failure at FIFA’s feet for once, but it’s still incredibly frustrating.

So let’s go through a couple of scenarios. 1) everything is Nike’s fault, 2) everything is USSF’s fault, 3) this is a combination of Nike and USSF errors (with a little sprinkle of FIFA on top, for that chef kiss flavor of constant irritation). Given the current difficulty in acquiring WNT jerseys of any country sponsored by Nike, it would seem they’re at least a little bit responsible for the current struggle. However, the same Nike rep who said a 3-star straight-cut away will eventually be available did confirm that other Nike-sponsored WNTs will have their jerseys available for sale on Nike’s site May 16, three weeks out from the World Cup.

Additionally, all problems falling on Nike’s end seems unlikely given how much they put into their extravagant World Cup kit launch in March in Paris, and given that non-USSF jersey suppliers like Fanatics don’t seem to have all the same problems that USSF did on launch. As shown in the tweet above, Fanatics had officially licensed customization available from the drop, which makes it puzzling as to why USSF wouldn’t have the same. That sounds like a supply chain problem, although it’s unclear where the error comes in – did USSF not order enough or in time from Nike to have things available? Did Nike simply have a limited amount of customization supplies manufactured at the time of launch? Who underestimated demand, or thought that a partial product launch wouldn’t irritate fans, particularly so close to the World Cup?

There are, of course, accidents, like hold-ups at the manufacturing or warehouse level. And perhaps someone decided it was better to start selling what they had rather than wait on a couple of jersey styles or customization options. But it looks slapdash and messy, and it probably dissuades some fans who otherwise would have made a purchase, particularly men seeking to support the women’s team. It also suggests a lack of prioritization of the World Cup and a failure to treat it as an enormous global event that requires lead time and coordination so that products can go out smoothly. The World Cup is not some sudden event – it happens, like clockwork, every four years. Widespread focus so rarely lands on the women’s game thanks to sports media’s reluctance to cover the day-to-day of the women’s game, which puts more pressure on companies and federations to get it right during the World Cup. They wobbled on the delivery this year.

No matter which scenario is true, there’s a failure somewhere at a top level to properly sell USWNT (and other countries’) jerseys. At a time when USSF is being accused of not devoting enough resources to marketing the WNT, thus depressing their actual market value and corresponding revenue, it’s a bad look. Money is being left on the table due to these mistakes, and if corporations and federations are so concerned about revenue, maybe they should re-evaluate their own efforts to bring it in.

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