The day after the U.S. Women's National Team won its third World Cup, the 23 players on the squad received their official three-star jerseys from head coach Jill Ellis. Shirt sponsor Nike prominently displayed their logo. Otherwise, things were very loosely choreographed.
But by the time the USWNT players had gotten their jerseys, soccer fans had already been bombarded from multiple sides with reminders that they could add replica three-star jerseys to their collections. Dick's Sporting Goods sent out an email about the jerseys moments after the team's 5-2 win ended on July 5. The U.S. Soccer Store's email read: "Congratulations WORLD CHAMPIONS Be The First To Own the WNT Three Star Jerseys."
A reversal of a longstanding policy by Nike back in April meant it wasn't just women getting these emails. Prior to this year's Women's World Cup win, Nike had told Bloomberg that it didn't sell women's jerseys in men's cuts to avoid confusion between the star-bedazzled jerseys of the champions on the women's side and those of the Cup-less men. This year, after the USWNT became massive popular—26.7 million watched the final on television, and hundreds of thousands packed 12-deep on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan to watch a parade for the new champions—Nike said that they would make the women's jerseys in men's sizes. Whether they actually ever did is a more complicated question.
On Aug. 3—less than a month after Carli Lloyd scored three times in 16 minutes—U.S. fan Josh Wheeling was disappointed to find out the jersey wasn't for sale. He received an email from the U.S. Soccer Store that read: "Unfortunately the Men's Nike USA 2015/2016 3-Star Home Jersey has been discontinued, we apologize for the inconvenience. Please feel free to contact our staff if you have further questions or concerns."
This seems like a weirdly small window in which to purchase a jersey with the three-star logo that Nike had prominently featured in television ads and on an enormous billboard. But it remains an open question whether Nike ever even made these jerseys in the first place, let alone how long they were available for sale. A Nike spokesman said last November that the company "rarely heard [the demand for USWNT jerseys in men's cuts] to be an issue."
But did Nike ever make these at all? Several requests for comment from Nike yielded requests for additional time. It was if "Did you ever sell these?" and "Why'd you discontinue them if you did?" were difficult questions to answer. A Nike spokesperson finally replied: "Information that I'm currently getting is that the jerseys sold out, so the notion that we didn't offer [the jerseys] is incorrect. Would make sense to hold your story while the information evolves and glean more. Hold tight."
After a month of requests for further clarification on why they'd discontinue an item which sold out in less than a month, U.S. Soccer Store finally produced this statement via email late Wednesday:
"The men's version of the US Women's National team 'three-star; jersey was available for pre-order following their World Cup win. After the jerseys sold out at the U.S. Soccer online store, some fans were informed via email that their previously reserved product was unfortunately no longer available for purchase. We're investigating the best way to rectify this for those customers."
U.S. Soccer also did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.
A concerted, but by no means definitive, effort on Twitter to find people who successfully purchased one of these jerseys revealed some grateful customers. "It was an impulse purchase for me, I jumped on it because the summer was important to me being in leadership with my AO chapter," Jonathan Duren, a member of the American Outlaws chapter in Raleigh, N.C., told me. His jersey had arrived on July 27.
Several other people described a similar experience on the night of the World Cup win. These people ordered their jerseys that night and received them in late July, which VICE Sports confirmed through email receipts and shipping updates.
But, it appears that several orders placed the next day weren't honored.
"My fiance, Brian Lux, ordered a men's size Carli Lloyd jersey and a women's size Megan Rapinoe jersey, through the US Soccer online store on July 6," Lauren Meenan told me in an email. "On July 30, he got an email saying his part of the order had been canceled. He called hoping that it was an error in the online system but the person he spoke to said that the men's sizes were discontinued. She didn't give any indication that there would be any men's sizes in the future and that there was nothing US Soccer could do."
Some retailers were not even given the option to stock the three-star men's jersey.
"I inquired right after the win and was told that there was no plan to make three-star versions of the old jersey, but they would be present on the new  jersey when it comes out," Upper 90 retail store co-founder Zachary Rubin said in an email.
What it all means can be summed up best by Jonathan Tannenwald, a soccer writer for Philly.com and longtime observer/participant in women's soccer fan culture.
"There are a lot of men's soccer fans who want to support the women's game," Tannenwald said. "Not just be fans in the stands, but really be supporters, bringing the culture of connection that the men's game has built. I'm sure that an element of this is a lack of past demonstrated demand which would prove that three-star men's-sized jerseys would really sell. Yet I would think that sports apparel manufacturers—not just Nike, but the others too—have the capability to be a little more forward-thinking."