Kicking it in
It is a big year for women’s soccer in America with a number of high-profile events on the schedule. (Photo: simonkr)
There are big things on the horizon for soccer in general and the women’s game in particular. Certainly, players, fans, media and marketers are aiming their sights on the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. But prior to that, the ninth annual SheBelieves Cup will commence in April. The USA will host Brazil, Canada and Japan in the four-team competition. The matches will be the first of six domestic games the USWNT will play following the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup and leading into the 2024 Paris Olympics.

For team dealers, the question is whether these events will move the needle when it comes to boosting female soccer participation and sales.

“For us, girls’ growth is stronger than boys’ in soccer — and girls’ sports in general are really growing,” says Mike Galipo, owner of PJ’s Soccer/Lacrosse, which operates one store in Bethesda, MD, and another in Falls Church, VA. “There’s lots going on with soccer, especially with the women’s pro league — more girls want to play.”

Galipo says most of his soccer business comes from club teams, but PJ’s Soccer/Lacrosse also services some high schools (more private schools than public schools).

Regarding product, Galipo notes that girls prefer women’s cuts in apparel that feature shorter sleeves and lengths in jerseys and shorter inseams on shorts.

However, footwear is a different story. “Female players don’t have little dainty feet — they want and need men’s product. It’s all about the fit,” he says. “When it comes to colorways, interestingly the boys want the pinks and blues and wild colors, whereas the girls gravitate toward black and basic colors.”

At Soccer Locker in Miami, FL, president David Zighelboim observes, “A lot of girls are playing soccer here in South Florida, but they’re not wearing soccer apparel [for casual use]. Unfortunately, the Women’s World Cup was a total bust, so going forward I just don’t know. However, Copa America will drive my business this summer, especially since the final is in Miami. It’s much more influential than the World Cup.”

More specifically, he says, “Girls wear training gear for their team or club but they don’t really wear soccer shirts as casual attire. Boys will wear soccer T-shirts and jerseys casually.” He adds, “At retail, females aren’t really buying anything. My store is replica-driven on the apparel side.”

In New England, girls’ soccer is also thriving. “Soccer sales are about equal for boys and girls,” reports Betsy Frye, owner of Holyoke, MA-based Holyoke Sporting Goods. “Now kids are getting signed up as young as ages three, four and five in Side Kicks and Little Kicks programs. We also have in-town leagues and youth athletic associations, and travel teams are coming back post-COVID-19.”

She adds: “Youth leagues are where I do best because we can use inexpensive T-shirts and shorts. We also sell soccer nets and goals. There really aren’t many challenges in the soccer category for us — kids’ parents were big into soccer and they expect their kids to play, too.”

Similarly, at Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, NH, the girls’ team business is solid. “It’s grown a little bit for us and we’ve seen a lot of teams and girls come in,” says buyer Dan Proulx. “Overall, soccer has the best growth for us. Looking forward, the women’s team sport business will definitely be steady and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it grow.”

Proulx says the business deals mostly with schools, followed by rec departments. “We do very little with travel teams. We sell more equipment than anything. We sell some jerseys for soccer and basketball and at retail we sell lots of cleats.” n