In February, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games will get under way in Sochi, Russia, and Under Armour, a Baltimore-based sports apparel and performance company, will have an expanded presence from previous Olympic Games.
When the Opening Ceremonies begin Feb. 7, Under Armour will be outfitting several of the teams that make up the United States and Canadian contingents. U.S. athletes in long-track speedskating, bobsled and skeleton, as well as Canadian athletes in snowboarding, will be wearing Under Armour uniforms as they compete for their respective countries.
Under Armour revealed its Olympic outfits and kicked off a new advertising campaign as part of a press event in Denver in November.
Outfitting Olympic athletes has traditionally been both a business opportunity and a news event for apparel companies. There was an outcry before the 2012 Summer Olympics when there were reports that some of the gear for the U.S. athletes had been made overseas.
This year, along with Under Armour, leading brands such as Nike, The North Face and Ralph Lauren will be covering athletes as they compete and attend various ceremonies.
For the fast-growing Under Armour -- whose 2013 net revenues are expected to exceed $2.25 billion -- putting uniforms on Olympic athletes, as well as having them wearing the company's gear, is an opportunity for brand building, innovation and embracing a global marketplace.
The Olympic Games are a worldwide marketing platform, which emerging companies have used wisely to present their brand to a global audience.
Two of Under Armour's rivals -- Nike and adidas -- have built their brand appeal through effective use of global sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Under Armour is backing up its sponsorship of national sport governing bodies, such as speedskating and freestyle skiing, with the opening of retail stores internationally, in countries with rich sports traditions and growing populations, such as China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and Chile.
For the Sochi Olympics, the opportunity that has generated some of the most intrigue around Under Armour is the development of a speedskating suit for the United States long-track team. Speedskating in the Olympics has historically been an event that has drawn interest in the United States.
Gold medalists such as Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair have generated stories with both performance on the track and compelling personal narratives. Jansen, who during the 1988 Olympic Games competed on the same day that his sister passed away from leukemia, fell twice. He rebounded to win the gold medal during the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
This time around, Under Armour has joined forces with Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin and is working on a groundbreaking aerodynamic suit, which has been called the Mach 39. The suit has been developed under a shroud of secrecy -- no photos had been released as of press time -- and will take advantage of Under Armour's work in developing the skintight ColdGear line of clothing the company has been known for thus far.
In speedskating, athletes reach speeds of approximately 40 mph, and gold medals have been determined by tenths of a second, or less. The aerodynamic profile of the competitors could be the difference between a gold medal and finishing off the podium entirely.
Plank has often referred to innovation as an area in which his company must continually push the limits of both competition and athletes. The company has a mantra of "Making all athletes better," and it has piloted a program called Future Show, in which entrepreneurs and innovators can submit ideas and concepts for innovating sports apparel and products. Plank and other Under Armour executives will review submissions, and winners can receive a prize of $25,000 as well as a development contract with Under Armour.
Bringing innovation, such as a more aerodynamic speedskating suit, to the global platform of the Olympics could inspire more innovative ideas for Under Armour, or attract world-class athletes looking for a competitive edge to the brand. That could set off a chain reaction for Under Armour, leading to more sales and more opportunities down the road.
After starting with an idea for a better T-shirt in 1996, Under Armour is now engaged in a competitive industry of sports apparel and products. In certain ways, when the Sochi Olympic Games take place Feb. 7-23, Under Armour will be competing for a place on the global podium of sports brands. The company will be helping athletes get down the mountain or around the ice rink faster, and trying to do it in a style that might make the next generation of Olympic hopefuls of the world take notice.