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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

USA Swimming is overhauling its approach to the apparel category by bringing an end to Speedo’s 27-year reign as its exclusive sponsor and making it possible for other swimsuit and apparel manufacturers to sponsor the organization.

The organization is turning what was once a single category held by Speedo into five categories: technical apparel, performance apparel, athletic shoes, lifestyle apparel and training aids (snorkels and fins). It also is selling an official sponsorship of its national team that will allow a sportswear or swimsuit company like Adidas or Tyr to create a signature line of clothing to outfit its top athletes.

Longtime exclusive apparel sponsor Speedo has already signed up as a non-exclusive sponsor of technical apparel.
The technical apparel category, which includes swimsuits, caps and goggles, will be sold on a non-exclusive basis. Speedo is the first to sign up as a sponsor in the category. USA Swimming also hopes to sign other companies such as Arena, Tyr, Nike, Li-Ning and other suit manufacturers.

USA Swimming chief marketer Matt Farrell hopes that by signing more swimwear companies it will be able to increase the amount of marketing and promotion of swimming nationwide, which will boost participation in the sport and boost the bottom line of the swimwear brands that sponsor USA Swimming. He believes changing from a single sponsor to multiple sponsors will increase USA Swimming’s total revenue from the apparel category, as well.

Speedo was paying more than $1 million a year to be the exclusive apparel partner of USA Swimming, according to industry sources. Its new, non-exclusive deal is more in line with other national governing bodies, which have mid- to high six-figure deals with an apparel sponsor.

“This is one of the riskiest things we’ve ever done — not only in sponsorship, but to really pull the industry together to grow the sport,” Farrell said. “When we really looked at where the sport was heading, our membership is growing, swimming at the Olympics did phenomenal on NBC, and we felt like this was the time to strike and do something bold.”

The changes were made in consultation with Speedo, and the brand became the first apparel sponsor to sign on to the new structure. It will be a non-exclusive technical apparel sponsor and have exclusive title rights to USA Swimming’s junior national and sectional competitions.

“I can appreciate that every org needs to evolve and every brand needs to evolve,” said Speedo USA President Jim Gerson. “It allowed us to look at the partnership between the two of us. We’re glad and happy to be sponsors of them, and this allowed us to look at their assets and pick some properties that align well with our strategies.”

In addition to selling non-exclusive sponsorships in the technical apparel category, USA Swimming hopes to sign an exclusive sponsorship for its national team, a category that will include on-deck wear and podium apparel. The new category opens the door for USA Swimming to sign a deal with Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and other global apparel brands that haven’t historically had an opportunity to sponsor the organization.

USA Swimming also hopes to follow in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s footsteps and sign a high-end apparel deal with a company like Ralph Lauren that can make fashion items for its athletes to wear.

“It will grow the category financially, but just as importantly it’s going to exponentially grow activation around different properties and our media partners,” Farrell said.