Let me be very clear about something: I want our U.S. Olympic athletes to win. I feel compelled to get that out of the way because I'm sure what I'm about to say is going to rub some the wrong way, but it needs to be said: The 2014 U.S. Olympic speed-skating team needs to accept it got beat in Sochi and move on. The team's losing had nothing to do with its Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) skating suits.
The suit controversy is getting out of hand. I've been asked about how this whole episode will affect Under Armour's stock -- understandable when a big-name brand is mired in controversy over something so important. These Olympic athletes are some of best the world has to offer. They've worked countless hours to get to this one shining moment and if an equipment failure takes them out of contention, well, that sucks.
But the more I research this debacle, the more convinced I am Under Armour's suits are about as responsible for the team's shortcomings as Punxsutawney Phil is for extending this brutal winter six more weeks.
Two sides to every coin
Consider this recent article from the Associated Press' Gary D'Amato. In it he explains (with support from Olympic gold medal winner Dan Jansen) how a potentially flawed training strategy on the part of the U.S. team may have very well backfired.
Instead of training at sea level in conditions similar to what the racers are encountering in Sochi, the U.S. team trains "almost exclusively " at altitude in Salt Lake City in conditions that are far different than what the racers are dealing with in Sochi. In fact, when Jansen was asked if he thought the team should have trained more in conditions similar to Sochi he said, "I absolutely think so." D'Amato also said that in the past five years U.S. skaters have won considerably more medals at altitude tracks that at sea-level tracks (44% to 26%), which makes the training hypothesis even more plausible.
When asked about the notion that the team's training regimen might be to blame, U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro said his skaters "have set track records all over the world at sea level. They did it this year. I don't know how many medals they've won at sea-level competitions, World Cup, domestic, and so forth. So, where people are getting this information from, they're getting it from a pothead, because they don't know."
I wonder if the perception of this whole mess would be different if they had questioned their training regimen first and then considered the equipment.
Golf isn't skating, but ...
I've played competitive golf for the majority of my life, and I think I can draw at least a similar parallel here. When I'm preparing for a golf tournament and I know the greens are going to be sloping and fast, I'm not going out and putting on flat, slow greens if I can help it. I'm going to try to simulate as closely as possible the course conditions on which I'm preparing to compete. It's the same reason why tour pros head over to the U.K. so early to prepare for the Open Championship. The conditions are different.
Now, I'm no speed skater and it's easy for me to play Monday morning quarterback, but why would they only train at altitude? Based on what Jansen and others have said, it's a completely different style of skating. So, isn't it possible that the training regimen is to blame here? Throwing the seed of doubt about the equipment into the skaters' heads was just the icing on the cake. Any professional athlete will tell you that when you doubt yourself, you're toast.
Under Armour will be just fine
What does all this have to do with investing? Well, a lot. It's these short-term events that can sometimes open windows of opportunity for investors to jump in and buy shares of their favorite companies at fire-sale prices. No, Under Armour's stock price hasn't plummeted because of this controversy. And it very well may not. But if it does it shouldn't scare Foolish investors.
It's looking more and more like the suits had nothing to do with this crisis save the distractions suffered by the skaters. But is that Under Armour's fault? I don't think so. And while speed skating is more popular outside the U.S., it's a niche sport here that doesn't get much press until the Olympics. True, Under Armour has global aspirations. But it's still very much a domestic play today with 95% of its revenue coming from North America, and most of that coming from the U.S. This will be forgotten before it could possibly even matter.
Follow the leader
The most important thing for Under Armour right now is how management responds to this crisis. Remember, Under Armour's customer is the everyday athlete like you and me; the professional and Olympic athletes are advertising. So, unless there is a genuine problem with the equipment and Under Armour doesn't own up to it, this isn't an issue.
I encourage anyone who owns Under Armour shares or is considering buying shares to listen to this recent interview with founder and CEO Kevin Plank. He's approaching the situation with equanimity and is focused above all on making sure the athletes are put in the best position to win possible. In short, he is leading this company forward.
If you're going to invest, be opportunistic
Equipment controversies are part and parcel of the athletic equipment market and Olympic controversies come and go. This one will last as long as the U.S. speed skaters want it to and I imagine they're about ready for it to end.
If it turns out this was in fact an equipment malfunction I'll be the first to apologize and admit I was wrong. Regardless of what happens, it behooves investors to pay attention to events like these. Because right or wrong in the short run, they can open up some genuine opportunities for investors focused on the long run.