Under Armour’s brand image took a body blow last week when the U.S. Speedskating team at the Winter Olympics voted to switch suits. After suffering through a series of embarrassing losses, the team voted to shed Under Armour’s Mach 39 suit and revert to an earlier version of the Under Armour suit worn during the Olympic trials and World Championship.
But it wasn’t the suit, which became clear as no US speedskaters won medals after the uniform change.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank defended his brand and his product. He refused to badmouth athletes or the team, and took pains to give a tweak or two to the suit’s vents.
Skaters had blamed the suits’ rear ventilation panels, and Plank responded publicly that “We are making changes right now with our team on the ground,” in an interview with Bloomberg Television on February 14.
Plank is still taking the high road, telling USA Today, “In no way, shape or form will we ever point fingers at the athletes. These guys have a ton of things going through their heads. There was no push back from us. We said, whatever will make the athletes more comfortable, we'll do.”
However, he did acknowledge that his brand’s rep had taken a big hit. “This brand was dragged through the mud,” he said. “There was a lot of conjecture and speculation, but none of it based on fact.”
Under Armour is so confident in its ability to deliver high performance athletic gear that it has pledged to continue sponsoring the US Speedskating team through 2022. In the same USA Today interview he said, “We want people to know that when we get knocked down, we get back up bigger, better and stronger.”
It seems like Plank and Under Armour came out of this possible PR disaster with a gold medal for communications, as he made much better moves throughout the controversy than any of our speedskaters did on the ice. He responded to criticism politely, defended his brand and refused to sling mud back at his detractors. Well done by Plank and Under Armour, just the sort of PR success we like to see.
Follow me on Twitter: @bwpkelly