Ralph Lauren may be misguided by outsourcing manufacturing of U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) uniforms to China. But, the American economy will benefit a speck from some in-sourcing with the Olympic uniform business.
A U.S. entity looks to bring a bit of Canadian money back home. NRDC Equity Partners controls Hudson’s Bay Co., the long-time Canadian retailer and official outfitter of Canada's Olympic team. NRDC, which also owns Lord & Taylor, bought Hudson’s in 2008 and assumed a reported $100 million deal to make Team Canada look snappy in Olympic dress through this summer.
It's labrynthine, but some cut of the money the Purchase, N.Y.-based company gets from sales of Team Canada apparel at Hudson's stores should find its way into the U.S. Treasury.
None of this arcaneness will be pointed out during NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Opening and Closing ceremonies. But Ralph Lauren and the USOC will likely have to absorb more big hits after a week of bad publicity, assuming NBC’s announcers break from the cheerleading and offer some journalism.
As has been well-documented, U.S. legislators have been railing against the USOC for allowing Ralph Lauren to manufacture Team USA uniforms in China. So much so, Ralph Lauren will bring the manufacturing stateside for 2014.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) was so upset at the USOC’s seeming lack of concern for U.S. jobs, he wanted the uniforms torched, even if the athletes had to go scantily clad.
"If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that's what they should wear," he said.
(NBC might be rooting for that as interest would drive ratings.)
With Ralph Lauren defusing some of the issue with the 2014 promise, hopefully there will be an uprising over a less important, but unfortunately too visible matter: Ralph Lauren’s Olympic designs. The over-commercialization of the Olympics continues and it’s hard not to look at Ralph Lauren as a personification.
The size of its iconic Polo logo on the U.S. uniforms – and other clothing to be worn at the Games, some of which was shown first on the "Today" show months ago -- is gaudy. While watching the athletes parade with the smiles on their faces in the Opening Ceremonies, the famed insignia can take viewers' attention away from them.
Of course, that’s surely what Ralph Lauren is going for. The Opening Ceremonies should do a pretty good rating on NBC and the product placement should log a few hours. Ralph Lauren has outfitted Team USA in the ceremonies for the past several Olympics, so it likely hasn’t experienced any significant backlash or would have gone in a toned-down direction. The USOC hasn’t released what Ralph Lauren pays for its sponsorship.
Team Canada uniforms look to carry a Hudson’s Bay logo that is far more low-key than the polo logo. Maybe it’s a welcome symbol of Canadian restraint?
What’s interesting is as the Chinese manufacturing controversy burns, before Ralph Lauren signed its deal, the U.S. uniforms, were made by a Canadian company, Roots.
In 2002, it sold popular berets worn by U.S. athletes for $19.95, while reportedly generating $40 million from its apparel deal overall. This summer, the U.S. team will wear a beret again. Fortunately, the polo logo won’t be on it.