Can we please stop blaming the suits?
USA national pride swelled at the exquisite unveiling of the "Mach 39," touted as a magnificent collaboration between Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT). This marriage of super sleek sporting gear and rocket technology was a sure bet to propel the U.S. Speedskating team to unprecedented success. Right? Well, apparently not.
With so much pride on the line, it's no wonder that enthusiasm fell hard as the U.S. team failed to medal from one event to the next. But was it logical to suddenly build a great big bandwagon to blame Under Armour? Something about how this all unfolded feels decidedly undignified; then again, finding a scapegoat fast is never very classy.
To be fair, representatives of the U.S. Speedskating team, including a number of the athletes, have stepped up and taken responsibility away from Under Armour. In an interview with USA Today, U.S. Speedskating's executive director Ted Morris conceded, "We know the athletes have talent and should have success. This is on U.S. Speedskating."
Whatever cocktail of factors left the USA bereft of speedskating medals, the path to the team donning the Mach 39 for Sochi was full of tests and decisions. Yelling at the suits isn't going to make it better.
A sure disaster for Under Amour?
Much has been made about the magnitude of the public relations disaster that this represents for Under Armour. While that may ultimately turn out to be true, it's not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
Under Armour has gotten a tremendous amount of mention in the press – undoubtedly far more than it would have even if the speedskating team had rocked Sochi. While it may not have played out at all the way the company dreamed, people are talking about Under Armour -- a lot. While one could imagine rival Nike (NYSE:NKE) smugly watching this unfold, for better or worse, Under Armour is clearly getting the buzz.
PR pros may debate the validity of the old saw, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," but sometimes it holds true. If the bump in brand awareness can ride higher than the suit blame, Under Armour may come out ahead.
To date, the company has stayed mostly mum about the suits. This is wise, as sometimes refusing to play is the best course in a blame game. The new suits have been replaced with the old suits and the results have not changed, supporting the idea that an elusive "something else" might account for the medal disappointment. The final assessment has yet to be made.
In the end, the success or failure for Under Armour in its Olympics adventure will be measured in its effect on the bottom line. Will increased brand awareness from the games boost sales, or will an angry public shun the label because our team failed to medal? With a distinct brand loyalty already on its side and the public's tendency to forget grudges quickly, my vote would be for the former.
Done well, Under Armour's PR team has an opportunity to give the 2014 Olympics story a favorable spin. It's up to them to spend the brand capital wisely.
You gotta have heart
Great Olympics stories have never been about technology. Dan Jansen has gone down in speedskating history as one of our favorite athletes not because of the events he medaled, but because of the tremendous heart he showed us at the games. Our winners are about personal triumphs, smiles, and tears. Can we please forget about blaming the suits and get back to cheering the athletes?