Under Armour Handled Olympic Crisis With Speed

When Under Armour produced what was proclaimed to be the fastest speedskating suit in the world, they must not have meant if U.S. Speedskating wore them.

The highly favored U.S. Speedskating team finished with shockingly disappointing results in the Sochi Olympics, failing to finish higher than seventh in any race, other than claiming a silver medal in the men’s 5,000-meter short-track.  Several explanations for the lackluster performance have been suggested, but the explanation that has caught the most fire centered around the high-tech “Mach-39” speedskating suits engineered by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin (http://usat.ly/1jMViOT).


As a result of U.S. Speedskating’s performance, the suits were dumped midway through the Olympics and the team returned to the Under Armour skin suits used in previous competitions (http://wapo.st/1c5a6DF). Major complaints about the suits’ vents in the back, claimed they were letting air in and decreasing aerodynamics.

In response to the athletes and media’s outburst, Under Armour took action to protect its products, sales and brand image (http://usat.ly/1e23e9Q). While the crisis gained exposure across digital and print media, Under Armour implemented key tactics imperative in crisis communication management. Among these, timely responses and well-planned messages were key.

In response to the allegations, Under Armour stayed consistent with the brand’s image; stating it strives to produce the highest quality sportswear to its consumers and professional athletes.The brand was also strategic in its defense by offering help to the team, showing the brand acknowledges it may have been to blame for U.S. Speedskating’s poor performance. By focusing on continuing a relationship and providing them with support, Under Armour appeared genuine and human.

Another key tactic when implementing crisis communication is recognizing a spokesman for the brand and providing media strategy. Under Armour did this exceptionally well through CEO Kevin Plank. Under Armour set up a phone interview with Plank that can be seen in the video below (http://dailym.ai/1jOhoDv).

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 3.53.55 PM

Plank’s obvious media training showed well during the interview and paid off to reinforce Under Armour’s brand identity. He did an impressive job of keeping the interview centered on the brand’s mission and efforts to maintain its relationship with U.S. Speedskating.  In a crisis, media training should entail defining key messaging, pre-media interviews and carefully crafted responses to anticipated questions.

Moving forward, it’s imperative for Under Armour to sustain credibility of its products. There is no evidence supporting the skaters’ speculations, and their performance even after they returned to the old suits does not support their claims. With lack of evidence, Under Armour should perform multiple tests on the suit, specifically with the back vent and athletic stability of the materials used. By providing credibility, Under Armor will protect its product value and sponsorship of future Olympic teams.

Crisis can happen at any time – being prepared for when a crisis hits is essential to protect your brand. Do you need a crisis plan for your company? Let Weise help – visit www.weiseideas.com or email tracy@weiseideas.com.

Do you think the Under Armour suits were to blame for U.S. Speedskatings’ results? Tell us below and on our Facebook page.

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