Arena Wins Bidding for Huge USA Swimming Contract in Historic Shift

After USA Swimming announced two weeks ago that it was opening up bidding to suit companies beyond Speedo for official partnerships, Arena USA announced today that they have won the bidding to become the exclusive apparel sponsor for USA Swimming, as well as the exclusive title sponsor for the Grand Prix Series. They also now hold worldwide merchandising rights to the USA Swimming brand, an area that could be capitalized on with some creative work (though doesn’t seem to have been yet).

Exact dollar figures weren’t publicly released, but sources tell us that this is easily a 7-figure deal over the 8-year term of the agreement.

Speedo is expected to retain exclusive title rights to Junior Nationals and Sectionals (the Speedo Championship Series) through 2020, and AT&T will remain the name sponsor of Sr. Nationals, according to an earlier release by USA Swimming.

“USA Swimming’s relationship with Speedo USA is a vital part to our organization,” said Matt Farrell, USA Swimming Chief Marketing Officer. “Their support has been invaluable to our organization since its inception and we look forward to our continuing our relationship well into the future.”

Juniors and Sectionals had already been locked-in by Speedo by the time Arena came to the table, but Arena came in strong when they learned that the National Team honor was open. The same source informs us that the deal has been closed for a while now, but out of respect for the existing Speedo partnership at Short Course Worlds, the two sides chose to wait until today to announce.

“The National Team gear will have Arena Logos and will be exclusive,” Arena North American Vice President Tim McCool said of the agreement. “Of course, like always, any swimmer has the right to race in other brands, which is no different than [Track & Field], Soccer, Basketball in footwear, for example.”

When asked about what sort of impact the Arena brand saw from this partnership, McCool said “The biggest return is without a doubt that this solidified that Arena is not only committed to the USA Swim Marketplace, but Arena should be considered a market leader in every aspect.”

The expression “market leader” is a powerful one in business, and the message is clear: Arena, after more than two decades out of the American market, is back and looking to challenge the brand that has become synonymous with racing suits: Speedo. That is not a title that will be easily won, but after the failing of Speedo’s latest racing suit, the FS3, last year, and with Arena’s new POWERSKIN Carbon Pro line making at least a big visual impact (those are the bright blue, highlighter yellow, and pink suits that started popping up at Trials this summer) a door is open.

Arena is not without its own shortcomings, however, as the brand has expanded again in the United States. Last summer, Arena, along with many other manufacturers, came up well short of demand for their suits: leaving athletes scrambling to find alternatives. When asked about how soon American swimmers could expect to see the company increase their production levels, McCool said “We are doing that immediately. USA is a primary focus for Arena, and production of our racing suits and team products is highest on our priority as we speak.”

“The good news and the bad news of this past year,” McCool continued about the Powerskin. “This was the first time Arena introduced a racing suit at these types of price points (for example: $500 for the women’s Powerskin Carbon Pro), and therefore we were sensitive to the economic woes and the demand for such price points.”

“To be frank, it was near impossible to forecast the success that occurred with the new Arena Technology (Powerskin Carbon Pro).  We have one year under our belt, so planning and forecasting the demand for our racing suits, as well as adding more machinery to manage the capacity load will solve any problems that occurred in 2012.  In fact, we anticipate even greater demand for 2013 and we’re excited to introduce some new colors as well as limited edition colors during the course of the swim year.”

As for how the move affects Arena-sponsored athletes, McCool said “This gives Arena a complete story for Arena Sponsored Athletes.  Up to the race, during the race, and on the podium.  Arena will now have the brand visibility to tell our complete story in ‘owning the deck’ providing superior products both in the water, as well as warm ups and other team wear out of the water.”

While that sounds like a very positive for the brand, it’s not immediately clear about how brand-continuity will benefit Arena sponsored athletes. Theoretically, of course, if this new deal with USA Swimming pans out for Arena economically, there would be more money in the marketing budget and thus more money for athletes.

The Conclusion

American swim brands are now, for maybe the first time in the information age, entering into a truly competitive market. This is a market that has long been dominated by a single brand, Speedo. Make no mistake: this is a huge boon for Arena, but Speedo isn’t going anywhere. Their brand is too big, they have too many resources, they have too many high-profile athletes on their roster (Phelps and Lochte), and their name rolls too easily off of the tongues of the tens of thousands of age group swimmers that make up the vast majority of the suit market.

The winners here are swimmers. Not just elite, Olympic swimmers: all swimmers. In a more competitive environment, we should expect the companies to began wrangling for cheaper suits. Further, much like we saw during the tech suit era, where at least in the elite high-dollar segment population raged, it should lead to better suits. Better in terms of speed, better in terms of comfort, and better in terms of durability.

Also, with a third company entering the ranks of the “majors,” (along with TYR, though their share anecdotally has eroded), this should open up additional opportunities for smaller, more agile competitors to step into the market with some impact.

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Kirk Nelson

Wow. Pretty huge when you consider Arena wasn’t even in the U.S. market just a few years ago.

Joel Lin

Arena has been in the US market since the early 1980s, but the US market has never been a focus until the recent year or two starting with some college team sponsorships – most notably Cal Berkeley. It is a big brand in Europe and not just in the sport of swimming. Arena has soccer sponsorship deals with Real Madrid and the Brazil football federation. It does not get bigger than that on a world stage. It is not correct that Arena pressed for success and failed – as Speedo in its present and past brands under Authentic Fitness have failed very consistently through the years. Consider the zenith this sport arrived at in 2008 with Phelps becoming the most… Read more »

Kirk Nelson

I believe you are incorrect. Arena totally abandoned the U.S. market for a few years.

Joel Lin

Point well taken. I have been buying Arena goods including swim suits on-line for the past decade or so but can note the website has always been very much European centric and you are clicks away from getting the site set to a US and English speaking site.

They have great products, and abroad have a great brand. Let’s see what they can make of this great opportunity.

Arena didn’t abandon the US market, but they have struggled with it a lot. Part of the problem with Arena USA was they didn’t keep product in stock, and would wait until it was ordered to manufacture it, causing significant delays. This was exactly the problem we had with Arena when we outfitted the Peddie School swim team with Arena in 1995. That was when they were producing the “Strush” suit. Brett Rose was our rep, and they were in Colorado at the time. Later,they had Bill Bettancourt working for them, and I think Jacki Hirsty worked for them at one point, too. We could get the products at the NEM Championships, but not in stores. Sometimes they came to… Read more »

Mac

Interesting…Arena has not really had a presence here in the USA for a long long time. I wonder what type of guarantee they gave in regards to staying in the US market. Didn’t they try a few years ago & fail (here in US)? (Prolly more than a few yrs)

evilwatersprite

Definitely more than a few years ago. My last team-issued Arena suit was in 1989.

Rick

Congrats Arena. Very cool to see some competition!
I have also seen the Finis brand improving over recent years in the swimming market. I like what they have done with their products and branding.
Looks like the Speedo reign is over as the swimming world becomes more democratic! A win for all swimmers.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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