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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."

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stilcrazee February 19 2014 at 12:46 PM

I watched one of the first events after "the change" that happened to be a men's skating event. Don't recall the exact name of it but there were 2 US male skaters involved. I remember one of them being interviewed and when asked point blank if he thought the suits made a difference he said "I know it wasn't me"..Really? When it was his turn he was beaten badly. No gas in the tank, ran out of steam or what ever you want to call it.
It was clearly not the suit as he was wearing "last year's model".
Admit it people, take responsibility for your own personal failure in the events.

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Connie February 19 2014 at 11:29 AM

Is this a joke. The dutch are better. period. Get over your self. You are not of the same caliber.

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donavonwakeman February 19 2014 at 11:06 AM

Any time you big money and big corporation involved. They screw it up.

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svazquez319 February 19 2014 at 10:53 AM

I dont know maybe we can blame that as well on George W. Bush........everyone else does.... :)
Why is it when things dont go our way we are always looking for a scapegoat.....??
Why cant we just admit my best just wasnt good enough today.......stop the blame game.....
Anyway as with all athletics.....the equipment is only as good as the person using it.....
Can anyone Quote the Olympic Creed????........pity if you cant......
We have all turn the Olympics into a win at all cost and if you dont then blame it on something....
We have taken what was meant to be pure and like everything else we have tarnished it......
Everyone competing in the Olympics have sacrificed their lives to try to represent their country and try to stand on the podium .
We all have good days and have bad days even the best do......ask Peyton Manning and Broncos about that......
Lets just leave it at that..........

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MSGT JAMES RET February 19 2014 at 10:29 AM

Yup ... suck it up! Although Olympic caliber skaters they are not good enough! That is what the Olympic is all about ... the best of the best ... I remember when trying out for little league baseball didn't guarantee being selected to play on a team. LOL!

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Rick February 19 2014 at 10:25 AM

Its not the suits. Its a known fact that the Russians pump heavy air into the arena while the USA is skating thus limiting the optimal speed they can obtain. In addition , the ruskies placed artificial clouds over the downhill ski area so that Bode Miller would not get a medal and whine like a baby. If you don't believe me log onto www. imawhiner.com. That's whiner not winner you idiot.

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chckpope February 19 2014 at 10:16 AM

Did Castanza have anything to do with it?

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1 reply to chckpope's comment
stilcrazee February 19 2014 at 12:49 PM

No, the suits were from Under Armour, not Vandelay Industries.

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jacobsgold February 19 2014 at 10:06 AM

Typical cry babies. They are so wonderful it just can't be they aren't as good enough. You didn't win because your not fast enough. Get over it.

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rubrduk2 February 19 2014 at 10:04 AM

So, just what branch of the military did Obama serve in?

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Johns Thing February 19 2014 at 10:04 AM

There are some points here that people WANT to ignore. As soon as I read that the team was doing real well on the world circuit one thing stuck in my mind. They were caught up in their own glory and kept pressing for more and came into the Olympics flatter than a pancake. The Olympics is something that other country's athlete probably were "peaking" for and thus, weren't as strong on the world circuit and thus, fresher at the Olympics. The ego is something that many athletes have trouble keeping under control. Don't blame clothing for such a big downfall. Clothing makes a difference at times but that's when the basics are already in place.

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1 reply to Johns Thing's comment
carnut122 February 19 2014 at 10:09 AM

Yep, the mighty fall when they think it will be "an easy skate in the park." One's ego is a vicious and ruthless opponent.

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