With each breathtaking save made by Mary Earps, the goalkeeper who helped England’s national team take second place in the Women’s World Cup, the complaints from fans got louder: Why couldn’t they buy a replica of her Nike jersey?
Nike, which outfitted the team, has attempted to present itself as being ahead of the curve in terms of offering support to female athletes and emerging sports talent. Though the company, the world’s largest sportswear maker by sales, acknowledged fans’ interest in replica goalkeeper jerseys, it initially did not commit to making them.
That changed on Wednesday, after thousands of people had signed a petition requesting that replicas of the jerseys worn by Ms. Earps and other women goalkeepers be released, and after a motion addressing the issue was submitted in the British Parliament.
“Nike has secured limited quantities of goalkeeper jerseys for England, U.S., France and the Netherlands to be sold through the federation websites over the coming days, and we are also in conversations with our other federation partners,” a spokeswoman for Nike said in a statement emailed to The New York Times on Wednesday evening, referring to members of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.
Nike is “committed to retailing women’s goalkeeping jerseys for major tournaments in the future,” the spokeswoman said in the statement, which did not specify how many jerseys would be available or when they could be purchased.
In the days before, Nike, which outfitted 13 of the 32 teams in the Women’s World Cup, had faced an escalating backlash from soccer fans on the issue. (Replica goalkeeper jerseys were available for four of the men’s teams Nike sponsored in last year’s World Cup.)
Many of the complaints centered around Ms. Earps, 30, who received the Golden Glove, an award recognizing the top goalkeeper in the tournament. “She’s the best in the world right now, and she doesn’t have a jersey,” Beth Mead, who has played for England’s women’s national team, told the BBC. “She doesn’t have a shirt that young boys and girls can buy.”
Why wouldn’t Nike want to offer replica jerseys for popular goalkeepers?
In the past, goalkeeper jerseys have not been best sellers for athletic-wear companies, for a few reasons.
With a few exceptions, goalkeepers typically do not cultivate the kind of passionate fan base that other players like forwards can, meaning potentially fewer jersey sales.
A goalkeeper’s jersey is also different from that of other teammates to ensure they stand out on the field. (Ms. Earps’s World Cup jerseys were emerald green and pink; her teammates’ were blue and white.) While a team’s main shirt can be produced en masse — with versions for various players requiring a simple name change on the back — a goalkeeper’s jersey requires a much smaller and more customized manufacturing run.
Though interest in women’s soccer has risen, the sport still drives fewer apparel sales globally compared to men’s soccer.
Did other brands make jerseys for goalkeepers playing in the Women’s World Cup?
Adidas, which outfitted 10 teams for the tournament, did not offer replica goalkeeper jerseys. Neither did Puma, which made kits for Morocco and Switzerland.
But Hummel, which made jerseys for Denmark’s national women’s team, and Castore, which made them for Ireland, each have released replica goalkeeper jerseys for those teams.
How did the controversy start?
At a news conference at the start of the Women’s World Cup, Ms. Earps expressed frustration about Nike’s decision not to offer replicas of the jerseys worn by participating teams’ goalkeepers. “It is hugely disappointing and very hurtful,” she said, adding that she had sought talks with both Nike and the Football Association, the governing body for English soccer, after England won the European Women’s Championship tournament last year.
Ms. Earps, who is a goalkeeper for Manchester United in the Women’s Super League, also pushed back on the idea that her jersey would not sell. “My shirt on the Manchester United website was sold out last season,” she said.
By the time England faced off against Spain in the Women’s World Cup final, Ms. Earps had made several vital saves that helped keep her team in the tournament. Her star performance only intensified questions about Nike’s decision.
David Seaman, a former goalkeeper for Arsenal and England’s men’s national team, posted a message of support for Ms. Earps while she was playing in the final. “Bet Nike are regretting not selling the #maryearps shirt now,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Another post on X shared that day read in part: “My 10 year old daughter is the goalie in her school team. She’s just gone online to buy a jersey for next year and wanted one like Mary Earps’s only to find Nike don’t do one. ‘That’s a bit stupid’ she said.”
In the absence of an official replica jersey by Nike, some of Ms. Earps’s fans made their own jerseys using tape. Several small retailers also started manufacturing jerseys similar to her Nike shirt.
How did Nike respond at first?
In a statement released after the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday, which England lost 1-0 to Spain, Nike tried to put the focus on the future.
“We are working toward solutions for future tournaments in partnership with FIFA and the federations,” the company said. “The fact that there’s a conversation on this topic is a testament to the continued passion and energy around the women’s game, and we believe that’s encouraging.”
That did not satisfy Ms. Earps. On Tuesday, she reposted Nike’s statement to her Instagram account, adding the text: “Is this your version of an apology/taking accountability/a powerful statement of intent?”
In another Instagram post, she shared a link to a Change.org petition that had been created in her support. It has received more than 150,000 signatures.
Ms. Earps, through a representative, declined to comment for this article.
How did Parliament get involved?
This week, Tracey Crouch, a member of Parliament and former sports minister, submitted a motion calling on Nike to release a jersey for Ms. Earps.
Nike “could have changed this,” Ms. Crouch wrote in an essay published in The Independent on Wednesday. “They still can if they take their fingers out of their tin ears and listen to the hundreds of thousands of women who have signed the petition, gone on social media, listened to the outcry on the media.”
The change of course by Nike, and the loud online chorus that apparently prompted it, underscore the growing influence of the global women’s game and its major names.