Canada's women's soccer team is more popular than ever — so where's the merch?
Fans, players say Canada Soccer behind the times when it comes to marketing its champions
When Canada's national women's soccer team defeated Sweden for Olympic gold last month, more than four million Canadians were glued to the dramatic game. Among them was Marina Peres Labelle, 12, who is part of a soccer program in Pointe-Claire, Que.
She and some of her teammates would have liked to have been wearing a team jersey in their size to show support — but their hunt proved fruitless.
"We couldn't find any women's jerseys and we were pretty disappointed because they had a bunch of men's jerseys," said Marina. "So we thought that was really unfair."
Fans of — and even players on — Canada's women's soccer team find it frustrating that it's still so hard to buy player jerseys, even after an Olympic gold medal.
Some experts say Canada Soccer should have been better prepared to market its most successful team.
Women's soccer is a big demographic to neglect. Around 85,000 girls are registered to play soccer in Canada right now. The national team are idols to many of those players, who would have liked to have shown their support during the recent Olympics in Tokyo.
As for the men's team, which did not qualify for the Tokyo Games, the national team jersey for star Alphonso Davies is available from several retailers in red, black and white.
While other countries provide their women's teams with extra jerseys in various sizes for family and friends, in Canada, it's not the same situation. A family would have to custom-order a jersey with their daughter's name on it.
Step 1. Fall asleep while scrolling to find the women’s jersey<br><br>Step 2. Find it but only available in XS. And only 3 total. <br><br>Step 3. …<br><br>Step 4. Put the canwnt name on the men’s jersey that the canwnt doesn’t wear… no thanks.<br><br>Step 5. 🗣🤯🥇<br><br>Olympic GOLD Medalists. <a href="https://t.co/e4UgdT9ubz">pic.twitter.com/e4UgdT9ubz</a>—@stephlabbe1
"My family doesn't have a Nike 'Labbé' jersey — and we've been Nike [sponsored] for how long? — and none of my family members have one," said Team Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. "My parents shouldn't have to go on a website and order my jersey. They gladly would, but they shouldn't have to."
In a statement, Nike Canada spokesperson Angineh Storino said the company is "working to make additional jerseys available so fans can show their support and pride."
A missed opportunity
Canada has missed out on many opportunities to better market the national women's team, including having merchandise ready to sell well before the Tokyo Olympics, said Rachel Allison, author of Kicking Center: Gender and the Selling of Women's Professional Soccer and an associate professor of sociology at Mississippi State University.
It wasn't as though gold was unattainable for the team: They won bronze in the two previous Olympics.
"The chance that they would get this level of visibility was always present and something that they should have been ready to move on and capitalize on quickly," said Allison. "And it doesn't seem to have happened that way."
In comparison, U.S. Soccer has a variety of items available, including individual player jerseys in several colours and sizes, sold from the team's official shop and other outlets both online and in stores around the world.
Allison recalls attending the 2019 Women's World Cup in France and seeing U.S. jerseys sold out almost everywhere. Additional orders had to be placed.
"They've learned the hard way that they're leaving money on the table that they need to take advantage of," she said.
When the Women's World Cup was in Canada in 2015, U.S. jerseys were a hot seller here as well.
Carmelo Sansalone's family owns Evangelista Sports, a soccer-focused chain of shops in Quebec. He said the U.S. women's jerseys sold very well in 2015, but people were also buying Team Canada jerseys then. Overall, he said, he's disappointed in what's been offered for Team Canada, especially after the women's team won Olympic gold.
"I feel like there's just a lot more potential. They just won the Olympics two months ago, and the day after it was: 'That's it.' There was just not much done with it … it's unfortunate."
A new deal may mean new hope
There is hope, however. Canada Soccer has signed a new deal with Fanatics, one of the biggest retailers of officially licensed sports merchandise in the world, including for the NHL, NFL and other national soccer teams.
But it's not clear yet if Fanatics will produce women's jerseys, or offer them in a variety of sizes. Currently, they have a very limited selection of individual player jerseys for the Canadian women's team.
Contracts to produce and distribute products such as jerseys, T-shirts and other items are complex and often take time, said Vijay Setlur, a marketing instructor with Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.
Canada Soccer just "didn't do enough" with the opportunities they had, he said, but he believes the future is bright for the men's and women's teams, as well as their fans' ability to get their hands on jerseys.
"Their new deal with Fanatics Canada will get the products to market much quicker now."
Players have been able to voice their concerns to Canada Soccer about the lack of items available, saying they want to see merchandise available online, in stores and at games.
Canadian forward Janine Beckie, who currently plays with Manchester City in the FA Women's Super League in the U.K., is optimistic that things will improve.
"We'll continue to push and hold them accountable if we don't feel as if we're getting what we deserve. The dialogue is good. The relationship is there and things are starting to happen."
Canada Soccer has not responded to CBC's request for comment.