Under Armour’s Olympics’ Does It Rise To Reputation Risk?

Michael D. Moberly    March 4, 2014    ‘A blog where attention span really matters.

As even the most wayward observers of the recent Olympics likely know, Under Armour, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, developed a full-body racing suit for U.S. Olympic speed skaters at Sochi.  I have no objective evidence that Under Armour, and perhaps by extension, but to a lesser extent, Lockheed Martin will experience anything resembling a (crisis level) reputation risk relative to the dissatisfaction expressed by a handful of American Olympic speed skaters regarding the use of those specially designed full-body racing suits.

Initially the new suits’ were met with enthusiasm, and by most open source accounts met or exceeded expectations in Olympic trials. But that enthusiasm quickly turned to controversy in Sochi because some speed skaters’ felt they slowed the wearer down.  Specifically, the suits were designed with vents at the back intended to release (body) heat, but skaters believed the vents actually let air in, thus undermining the suits’ intended aerodynamic characteristics.

Under Armour VP Kevin Haley was subsequently quoted as saying his company would “move heaven and earth to make [the suits] better.”

I am cautious not to characterize myself as a necessarily seasoned specialist in company reputation risk of the caliber of Nir Kossovsky and other experts in this increasingly specialized field.  But does, or better yet, should this ‘suit issue’ really rise to the level of a company reputation risk?

It’s probably fair to assume Under Armour sought collaboration with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, because LM had existing technologies coupled with the necessary intellectual and structural capital to execute the suits’ design. And, let’s not overlook the fact that LM is a U.S. based corporation, something which Ralph Lauren’s presumed cadre of reputation risk advisors overlooked in a previous Olympics’.

Understandably, I suspect, Under Armour believed these specialized full-body suits and their link to LM’s aerospace (advanced technology) gravitas, would elevate their relatively narrow, but expanding niche (brand) in the sports apparel sector.  But, the adverse voices of a few speed skaters coupled with returning the suits for alteration, produced a ‘global podium’ for expressing their displeasure virally.

This is certainly not what Under Armour envisioned, nor is there evidence, nor should there be, that Under Armour would put their ‘brand’ on the ‘global stage’ in this manner absent well considered expectations that it would favorably advance their brand.  But again, should this rise to becoming a full blown reputation risk, I just don’t think so.  However, the path option(s) Under Armour chooses, to not merely put this challenge behind them, but instead work diligently and transparently to remedy this challenge with integrity and strong commitment will become their ultimate test.

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