Wisdom.Applied Wednesday: Under Armour Doubles Down for Next Two Olympics

True or false, you’re only as good as your tools?

False, at least that’s that case with the U.S. speedskating team and their Mach 39 suits by Under Armour. The Team USA sponsors started off the Olympics promising, debuting the Mach 39 (marketed as the fasted speedskating skinsuit ever created). Under Armour even tasked Lockheed Martin to help them develop and test the suits.  After 300 hours of wind tunnel testing and a month of making modifications for the US Olympic team, the Mach 39 was supposed to help US medal favorites to the podium; however, the athletes fell short of expectations… and the public and media alike began to scrutinize their tools: the Mach 39.

“Under Armour was certainly in a tough spot. Here’s a 3rd place brand that has to make its living in outflanking the big boys (adidas and Nike) with advanced technology. So what do they do? They partner with Lockheed Martin. Nothing says “fancy tech” like hooking up with an aerospace giant. They did a great job in hyping the product…and from there it was Murphy’s Law,” said Mark Revermann, Vice President, Insight & Integration at The San Jose Group.

After several disappointing events (where no one from Team USA finished higher than seventh), media outlets began using the suits as a scapegoat. For a brand like Under Armour—which makes a majority of its profits from sports apparel and has been on the top of sports apparel technology since it entered the market—being blamed for the disappointing Olympic performance is catastrophic to its image (and its shares). The team eventually voted to revert to their old skinsuits. Even after the team sported to their old speedskating suits, the US failed to deliver. And, for the first time in 30 years, they left the Olympics without earning a medal in speedskating.

Under Armour and the US Olympic Committee refuted the claims that the Mach 39 was at fault, and the sports outfitter responded by extending its sponsorship deal through 2022 (meaning, Team USA will be wearing Under Armour in the next two Olympics). Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said that mathematically, the suits weren’t to blame… and neither were the athletes. He’s confident that he and Team USA can “double down” and get “bigger and stronger” in the next two Olympics. Since then, the company’s image (and its shares) have moved in a more positive direction.

“Personally I think they got thrown under the bus and the entire story became overblown. In the end no one won. Literally,” said Revermann. “Their CEO was quoted as saying he learned some lessons, but he never stopped standing by his product, and I think that is admirable. Admirable enough to get a contract extension. OK, so maybe someone won.”

The Dutch team were the big Olympic winners in speedskating, and their coach, Jullert Anema, had his own answer to their dominance: “We have found something very fast. It’s the man in the suit.”

Cover Photo Source: redcarphotography

Cassandra is a Content Manager and Developer at SJG. She earned her BA from Fontbonne University in 2011. Outside the office, she enjoys an active, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle including reading, writing, running, golfing, watching films, listening to music, taking photographs, and consuming media and social media.