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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.

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kostas February 18 2014 at 11:17 PM

Just race in a thong no problem. LOL

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hattie54 February 19 2014 at 9:30 AM

I am sure most of the posters don't know anything about this sport.I follow it some and not as much nowdays.Shani,Heather Ricardson and Brittany Bowe won World meets before these games and 2 hold world records,that still stand today.It has to be depressing to not win at least one medal.

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Debbie February 19 2014 at 9:28 AM

Yeah, right. And BMW's bob sled was the reason why our bobsled team's performance was so dismal. And if the suits were to blame, why didn't their performance improve once they returned to their original suits? I know, I know, people will say they were already psychologically damaged. I think the focus needs to be on the coaching and the team members, not the suits.

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1 reply
Wonders Debbie February 19 2014 at 9:59 AM

Why were our bobsledders dismal? Last time I heard our two man team took bronze and that is a medal is it not? For the first time in 62 years I believe. You should do some research before posting something so completely inaccurate as that. A little FYI for you, we are currently in first and third for the two woman bobsled after 2 runs so guess BMW did OK.

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John Myers February 19 2014 at 12:09 AM

It may have been that they forgot to WD-40 themselves befor departing.

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doowap215 February 19 2014 at 1:46 AM

seeing the race with the black guy, and seeing his mouth hanging open as if out of breath at halfway through the race, i have to wonder if they've been filtered some chemical perhaps in their drinking water, to affect their performance. or perhaps they're just plain not up to par.

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woodmite8 February 19 2014 at 12:24 AM

Let me join the chorus of non experts ....might be a bit hard to perform in a stretchy elastic suit ...like breathing in a too tight girdle (have to go on looks for that never wore one) ...no wind resistance but that doesn't mean there isn't movement resistance ...The athletes are professionals if all of them are dissatisfied I would sooner believe internet trolls are whining and the trained actual athletes know when something isn't working

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bilhee February 19 2014 at 8:58 AM

Maybe they just weren't as good as the Dutch or the rest of the world…The US comes up with the most amazing reasons why they don't win everything….

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corvette February 19 2014 at 12:39 AM

Please give credit where credt is due. Congrats to the Dutch speed skating team. 19 medals.

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corvette February 19 2014 at 12:43 AM

Whinning instead of winning ....

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