So what is all the fuss about? It is difficult to see that anyone is going to care about this apparent slip-up except for perhaps the sponsors. Nike will be ecstatic and Under Armour will be seething.
The problem is that Phelps is the spokesman for the sportswear brand Under Armour and has been since growing up in Baltimore, where the brand is the one to be seen in. At the Olympics in Rio, however, Nike were the sponsors of the USA team. As the two other people in the photo in question were wearing their team kit, Phelps was doing the same, with a very obvious Nike tick on his tracksuit trousers.
When questioned about this apparent mix-up, Phelp’s agent responded that he had to wear Nike clothes because the company was Team USA’s sponsor for the Olympics. However, other sources have said that this was not the case. Under Armour are, so far, staying silent.
There is no real answer to this. As far as Under Armour are concerned, the damage has been done, and it seems that Phelps was behaving correctly in wearing Nike clothing. The US Olympic Committee signed a partnership with Nike in 2012 that would extend until 2020. It seems clear that Phelps was acting as a team member and not as an individual in wearing the sports kit. However, it will be interesting to see if Under Armour view the picture in this light when they make a comment. The delay in their response reflects the difficulty of the situation.
Team members wear team kit and adhere to team rules. For example, a netball team may be sponsored by a company such as Sportplan and use a Sportplan netball drill video to train their members in netball drills. Being paid by the company, they should respond by supporting them at each outing. If, however, the netball team go to the Olympics, then they are obliged to wear the Olympic kit chosen by that country’s committee. The national brand surpasses individual or team affiliations – particularly at the Olympics, where athletes march as one under their national flag.
A positive point is that Phelps was wearing Under Armour shoes, but sadly they weren’t in the picture.