Canada Soccer fans struggle to find jerseys amid FIFA World Cup qualifiers
It’s been 35 years since the Canadian men's national soccer team competed in the FIFA World Cup and the hype surrounding the qualifiers couldn’t be any bigger as this country heads into the next round at the top of the table.
But with a surge of new fans supporting the team, finding a Canada Soccer jersey is almost as tough as the matches themselves.
“The team has been performing well and it’s happening relatively fast, the supply of paraphernalia and apparel hasn’t been able to keep up with the surge of attention," said Vijay Setlur, a marketing instructor with Schulich School of Business at York University.
"For the longest time there was little interest in the men’s national team.”
Canada's heading into its latest match against Honduras as the top-ranked team for the Concacaf Final Round of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
The team has six matches left and if it manages to stay in the top three it'll automatically qualify for the World Cup, marking the first time Canada will play in the tournament since 1986.
The elusive jersey hunt
Last year, Canada Soccer signed a long-term partnership with licensed sports merchandise platform Fanatics to help expand its retail offerings. But despite the deal, fans are still having a hard time tracking down different jersey styles, let alone the right size.
As of January 26 at 7:50 a.m. there are no women’s options on the Fanatics website and the only men’s authentic jerseys in white.
If you’re looking to get a shirt for Canadian superstar Alphonso Davies it’ll set you back $149.99 and it’s only available in a small replica men’s jersey.
For fans looking to get an authentic shirt, there are only two options with players’ names left. Supporters have the choice of representing forward player Jonathan David or Canada Soccer Capitan Atiba Hutchinson, but it will cost you $249.99.
“To be honest I’ve given up trying to buy one because I’m not going to spend $250, which is the most I have ever seen a jersey go for,” said Paul Docherty, a soccer fan who’s been closely following the team for the past eight years since he moved to Canada from Scotland.
“I almost find it embarrassing for the national team to sell them at that price to fans. If it’s a supply chain issue they should just sell them at the regular price and then mark them as sold out once they’re gone because I just don’t know where that price is coming from.”
Currently Belgium is in the top spot for the men's global qualifier ranking, while Canada is sitting at 40th.
But even the number one team in the qualifiers right now aren't charging as much for their jerseys as Canada.
Setlur said jersey supply is being impacted by a perfect storm of supply chain problems and unprecedented demand in Canadian soccer; with national women's team winning gold at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics for the first time in history while the men's team took the title of FIFA's 2021 "Most Improved Side."
“There are supply chain issues right now but at the same time Nike has other national teams as partners that potentially sell a lot more than Canada, so you don’t want to produce product that's not going to move,” Setlur said.
“Since demand surged so quickly perhaps they haven’t been able to keep up. Hopefully that improves, however even if Nike does want to increase production those supply chain issues could still be holding them back.”
Canada Soccer, Nike and Fanatics have not responded to requests for a comment on the jersey shortage.
Searching for alternatives
If you’re looking to find a jersey to support the boys in red and white you might have to turn to a less traditional avenue.
“There’s been a pretty big grassroots movement when it comes to fans creating apparel and it’s been continuing to grow for some time, they’re sort of holding the fort down until Canada Soccer can create and distribute more of its official merchandise,” Setlur said.
Canadian soccer fan group The Voyageurs creates its own merchandise for followers to show their support for the team.
The association sells its own shirts and scarfs, using the sales to pay for its fan page and thousands of flags to show support for the team at matches.
Jamie McLeod, president of The Voyageurs, said he’s seen a spike in the number of fans looking to buy merchandise amid the World Cup qualifiers.
“Normally we would sell 200 items in a year but since November 2021 we’ve sold about 4,500 items, so it’s been a colossal increase for us and I’m just one volunteer doing it,” McLeod said.
But many supporters are also turning to the black market for jerseys amid a lack of official Canada Soccer merchandise.
“There appears to be a big black market that has opened up during this shortage for Canada Soccer jerseys,” Docherty said.
“I posted on The Voyageurs Facebook group and then a bunch of people personally messaged me saying, ‘Hey do you want a shirt? We have them on the black market,’ and there’s a bunch of sites like Alibaba that are selling them right now.”
On the other hand, some fans are searching for classic kits from past Canada Soccer sponsorships.
"What I decided to do is look for an old school Canada Soccer jersey from Umbro," Docherty said
"I'm hoping to have one of those by the time we eventually play in the World Cup."
David Chong, managing director at MKTG Sports + Entertainment, said at the end of the day, the surge of fans looking for alternative options to official merchandise only harms the sponsors.
"It’s unfortunate for teams and sponsors like Nike but if there’s not enough supply you’re kind of a victim of your own circumstance," Chong said.
A new hope for Canadian soccer
When the Canadian men’s soccer team last qualified for the World Cup in 1986, Wayne Gretzky broke the NHL record for most number of points in a season, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history, and Michael Jordan set the NBA record for points scored in a single playoff game.
Safe to say it’s been a few years since the men’s team has had an opportunity to show their talents on the world stage. But Setlur said he doesn’t think Canadians will have to wait that long this time around.
“Over the past few years you’ve started to see the rise of Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Scott Arfield who have been joined by other great players to make this the best team on paper that it’s ever been,” Setlur said.
“The fact that Davies is young gives fans hope because he’s not even in his prime yet so this is not just a one-year chance to make it, this is a team that could be good for the next decade which could also be fuelling the merchandise interest.”
On a positive note, Setlur said he doesn’t think the jersey shortage will be an issue towards the end of the year, with opportunities arising from the Fanatics deal.
“It puts Canada Soccer in a position to make advances in merchandising, so I don’t expect these jersey issues that we’re seeing now will even exist next year,” Setlur said.