Under Armour has gotten unfairly beaten up over its new speedskating suit that sparked controversy at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Chairman and CEO Kevin Plank told CNBC on Friday.
But despite that flap, Under Armour and U.S. Speedskating have decided to extend their partnership.
In a “Squawk Box” interview, Plank said the deal was about “quieting the noise” and showing his company’s commitment to the sport. “We want to make sure that our message is there and this is not just a one-and-done.”
Friday’s announcement keeps Under Armour as the team’s exclusive competition suit provider through 2022. The arrangement had been set to expire this year.
“We doubled down, literally, our deal—because what I didn’t want it to come down [to] a negotiation,” Plank said. “See you in South Korea in 2018.”
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U.S. speedskaters had been heavily favored coming into the Sochi games. But they’ve failed to win any medals, with much of the blame falling on those high-tech “Mach 39” suits developed with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
Last week, the new suits were dumped for the old Under Armour ones, but the athletes still struggled. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said earlier this week: “We do not believe the suits were the problem.”
Plank remained optimistic Friday: “The U.S. still has a great shot at hitting the podium.” The last opportunities for U.S. medals in the sport got underway Friday—with the finals in the last two speedskating events set for Saturday.
The timing of the new speedskating deal before competition ends was not a public relations ploy, he said. “It was a cultural play of the way we approach it from a company. … If you challenge us we’re not going to run away.”
“Hopefully the world sees that, including the Dutch team,” he said.
In a CNBC interview Thursday, Jillert Anema, speedskating coach for the Netherlands, dismissed the Under Armour suits as the direct source of Team USA’s difficulties—saying it was all in the skaters’ heads.
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Plank responded to Anema: “We’ve had people working on these suits for the last two years, hand in hand with U.S. Speedskating, hand in hand with the athletes.”
But the U.S. speedskaters never competed in the new suits before the Olympics. “Hindsight being 20-20, we can look back and say, ‘I wish the athletes had the opportunity to wear them in competition [first].'”