No matter how popular the Black Ferns get, the lack of merch options persists. Mad Chapman once again reports.
After a hugely successful rugby world cup, where the Black Ferns emerged as champions both literally and in the hearts of rugby fans the world over, the official merch store is once again offering virtually nothing to the thousands of new fans looking to show their support.
If you’re feeling deja vu right now, it’s warranted. I feel like I’ve written this story over and over for the past five years. The first was in 2018, when I was a Black Ferns fan and searching for a Black Ferns jersey. At that time, there literally weren’t any for sale anywhere, nor was there a single item of Black Ferns-branded merch. The few fans who owned jerseys were gifted them by the team itself. One of those people was then prime minister Jacinda Ardern. With her help, I too was gifted a jersey direct from the team supply. One small step for Mad, one giant nothing for fankind.
Over the next four years, the offerings in the Black Ferns merch store varied, though were never ample. By 2020, a replica playing jersey was available, as well as a youth support T-shirt for $45. At one point in 2021 (when the Black Ferns were least active due to travel restrictions), there were even youth replica jerseys available and a whole nine items in the Black Ferns merch store (more on the other items later).
In 2022, New Zealand hosted the women’s rugby world cup. But you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the Black Ferns merch store. I once again wrote about the slim pickings, which, two weeks into the world cup, consisted of replica jerseys, a beanie (added after the tournament began), a rain poncho and a rugby ball.
For comparison, the Fifa world cup is being co-hosted by New Zealand and kicking off this month. The Football Ferns are far from tournament favourites, yet the merch available includes playing jerseys (home and away strip, kids’ and adults’ sizes), hoodies, caps, beanies, scarves and T-shirts. That feels like the baseline for sporting merch for a national team.
When the rugby world cup proved a huge success and the Black Ferns won, a “champions” T-shirt was added in November and sold out by the end of the year. Elsewhere, players’ families and communities were producing some genuinely stunning merch themselves.
There was much discussion after the world cup about how crucial this moment was for New Zealand Rugby. After decades of neglecting the women’s game, this was the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the success of a home tournament and keep the new fans invested. But the Black Ferns have been playing (and dominating) overseas lately, their first test matches since the world cup, and you’d barely know it. And what will all those new fans wear? Today, the Black Ferns merch store has a total of five items. One is Ruby Tui’s book which hardly counts. One is a $150 “blanket hoodie” and three (the majority of the merch options) are woollen throws ($399).
Those woollen throws, which have no discernible Black Ferns branding, have been the one piece of Black Ferns merch that’s stuck around for years. Who is buying the $399 throw? And why?
A spokesperson for New Zealand Rugby confirmed that any items previously in the merch store during the world cup had simply sold out. “Black Ferns jerseys have sold out but 2023 jerseys should be back on the All Blacks Shop (and other retailers) soon.” They noted there was “definitely a plan to introduce more merch” and cited licensing partnerships as an opportunity to “support better merchandise options in 2024”.
Perhaps a first step would be considering a new name for “All Blacks Shop” seeing as the shop also sells Super Rugby and Black Ferns merch (though everything pales in comparison to the dozens of categories of merch available to All Blacks fans).
Back in 2018, the Black Ferns had fans but weren’t national icons. The public response to complaints about the lack of merch was that the team simply wasn’t commercially viable or popular enough to warrant it. The selling out of virtually every item last year suggests at least some popularity and interest.
In 2023, many Black Ferns players are now household names, and the improvements to the general public’s perception of women’s rugby in general have been astronomical. Ruby Tui’s memoir was the biggest-selling book (by far) of 2022, despite being published late in the year. The team is finally being featured on Sanitarium Stat Attack cards. It feels as though the game is developing quickly and all New Zealand Rugby has to do is keep up.
A selection of $400 woollen throws and a loose commitment to improving suggests I may be writing this story again in 2024.
Are you the proud owner of a Black Ferns woollen throw? Do you know anyone who owns one? Please contact email@example.com with your story.