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Under Armour stumbles in Olympic sponsorship

Under Armour Suits To Blame For U.S. Speedskating Losses?

NEW YORK (AP) - The 2014 Sochi Olympics were expected to be a triumphant moment for the U.S. speedskating team - and the squad's sponsor, Under Armour.

It's been anything but that.

After a strong showing on the World Cup circuit, the team headed to the Games in skinsuits that Under Armour developed and called the fastest speedskating suits in the world.

Not only has no U.S. skater won any medals yet with seven speedskating events to go, but the sportswear company that made their high-tech Mach 39 suits is being blamed in part for the downfall.

While no one is saying the suits are definitely the cause for the disappointing performance, the team ditched them midway through the Olympics and went back to an older Under Armour one.

The debacle has put Under Armour in a position no advertiser wants to be in: on the defense.

The Baltimore-based company, which also is sponsoring the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams as well as the Canadian snowboard team, said in a statement that it is dedicated to providing "state-of-the art technology."

The issue underscores the risks advertisers take when sponsoring huge events. Olympic sponsors often spend millions of dollars to have their logos plastered everywhere, including on the bodies of some of the most athletic bodies in the world. They hope to capture the huge audience; about 20 to 25 million viewers tune in to NBC's U.S. broadcasts each night, for instance.

Because of the growth of social media and other technology, sometimes the publicity can pay off: Even though Nike was not an official sponsor, for instance, the company's neon-yellow Volt shoes became the talk of the 2012 Olympics after about 400 Nike athletes sported the brightly colored footwear. But bad publicity can spread quickly, too.

Under Armour, which worked with Lockheed Martin to develop the speedskating suits to have less resistance than other suits, already is becoming the center of a lot of debate over the disappointing speedskating team's performance.

The brand was the most buzzed about Olympic sponsor online on Tuesday, according to Kontera, which monitors how much brands are mentioned in online conversations. In fact, the amount of social chatter about the brand increased 300 percent from Feb. 9 through last Wednesday, before the news broke, compared with after the speedskating problems on Thursday through Sunday. Many of the conversations over social media sites like Twitter revolve around whether Under Armour's suits are to blame for the speedskating team's woes.

Paul Swangard, managing director at Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said Under Armour could have long-lasting headaches if the debacle puts questions of product quality into consumers' minds.

But some experts say Under Armour might be boosted by the added public relations, or PR. Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York customer research firm, said that Under Armour's approximate 81 percent brand awareness could have gone up a point or so.

But awareness about the fact that the company was a supplier of suits for an American Olympic team probably "leapt enormously," he said. While Passikoff said it's never good for a company to have the perception that a product doesn't measure up, Under Armour's brand is strong enough to weather the issue.

To be sure, other Olympic sponsors have had misfires that have since been forgotten by the masses. For example, few people may remember the outcry Ralph Lauren faced in 2012 when people learned that the opening ceremony outfits the designer provided to U.S. Olympians were made in China. And Speedo got into trouble in 2009 when its swimsuits helped swimmers too much - leading to a ban of high tech fabrics. But the Speedo brand was not damaged long term, experts say.

"I don't think this is going to prove to be long term catastrophe. It's a short-term headache," said Atlanta-based branding consultant Laura Ries. "Not everyone goes home from the Olympics a winner."

Join the discussion

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muffin February 18 2014 at 7:18 PM

How many races has the USA won since returning to the older suits. Seems to me the winner of a race is the fastest person, not the one with the fancy suit. It would be nice if the USA had won, but give credit to the countries that did win. Quit blaming everything except the fact there were faster people in the same race.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
johnglewis1964 February 18 2014 at 8:10 PM

UA can make high quality products, but I find their stuff highly variable. The are constantly changing the design, and constitution, of their products. I mainly purchase socks from them.

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1 reply
wlh1923 johnglewis1964 February 18 2014 at 8:47 PM

Under Armour re-invented polyester as the new miracle fabric. Polyester is cheap crap regardless whether it has an Under Armour label or a 1975 JC Penney label

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johnglewis1964 February 18 2014 at 8:07 PM

Interesting. Let's keep watch.

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rdm54 February 18 2014 at 8:05 PM

new or old gear they just got their asses kicked don't blame the uniform

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2 replies
BillyMaxer rdm54 February 18 2014 at 9:34 PM

USA USA USA USA hahahahahaha !

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dcrazysnake rdm54 February 18 2014 at 10:05 PM

Isn't sportmanship just great. If we can't win, let's blame someone or some thing(s), Hmmm! Hey, you kids, our future olympicians. Remember this excuse. If you can't win. Play this card. Who knows(?) you may win a "sore loser's metal"

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olehippi February 18 2014 at 7:56 PM

The speedskaters have gone back to their old suits used in the World Cup Series. Let's see if it makes any difference. My guess is no. I suspect the controversial training at high altitude, and a degree of cockiness, have more to do with performance than the Under Armor suits.

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1 reply
robb olehippi February 18 2014 at 8:12 PM

Yep, you nailed it!!

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macsportsvt February 18 2014 at 8:11 PM

Whining does not win medals - it's about getting it done.

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Jim and Sandy February 18 2014 at 7:40 PM

Reminds me of the US Ryder Cup team several years ago, finding out their rainsuits weren't water repellent until they wore them the first time in the Ryder Cup matches. Duuuuuuuuhhhhhh.

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robb February 18 2014 at 8:18 PM

I had a friend in college who blamed her failing Finals - on the fact that she forgot to wear her luck underwear. This one really takes he cake!!

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Jim and Sandy February 18 2014 at 7:36 PM

Using golfer Lee Trevino's old saying, "Don't blame the arrow, the problem is the Indian."

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1 reply
lashby16812 Jim and Sandy February 18 2014 at 8:39 PM

NICE ! I like that one.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
lindadiii February 18 2014 at 7:19 PM

I don't think the under armour is all to blame for the U.S. not getting any medals,,Looked to me on the races they just were good enough,,They looked tired and they just got beat by better competition.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
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