By Shoshanna Rutemiller
PHOENIX, Arizona, January 2. IT'S no big secret that brands are associated with certain experiences. Several generations of swimmers grew up in the United States wearing Speedo brand suits and equipment.
Take the 1990s, for example. It was a decade smack dab in the middle of Speedo's 27-year-long exclusive contract with USA Swimming. But even though the 90's generation swimmers were blindfolded by a single brand, other kids were knocking around the block.
It was big news when Arena landed its exclusive apparel sponsorship deal with the National Team. But perhaps it was blown out of proportion because, really, Arena has always been around. Executives were waiting for the right market opportunity. USA Swimming ending its exclusive sponsorship deal with Speedo was that opportunity.
There is a poster of Matt Biondi posing in Arena swimwear hanging on the wall in the Swimming World office. Biondi has his arms crossed, peering into the camera lens with a half-cocked smile. He looks devastatingly cool. The poster dates back to 1988, the same year he won seven medals (five of them gold) at the Seoul Olympics.
Rebecca Soni looks out from the sidebar of the Swimming World homepage. She's got her hands on her hips, wearing a black racing suit with Arena written in bold across her chest. She's arguably the most visible Arena-sponsored athlete in the United States, with two gold medals and two world records from the London Olympics.
Biondi and Soni are a generation apart, and they represent the history and present of a brand vying to top Speedo as the number one swim-related company in the US market.
In 1973, Arena signed Mark Spitz and Australian Olympian Shane Gould to its first Arena Elite Team. In the following decade Arena sponsored an impressive collection of World Champions including: Mark Spitz (USA), Novella Calligaris (ITA), Steve Furniss (USA), David Wilke (UK), Shirley Babashoff (USA), Gary Hall (USA), Klaus Dibiasi (ITA), Ulrika Knape (SWE) and Maxine “Miki” King (USA).
Take a look back in history with the following collection of Arena ads that ran in Swimming World Magazine in the 1970s:
With the passage of the Amateur Sports act of 1978, individual amateur sports had the right to set up their own governing bodies outside of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Consequently, USA Swimming was created. This same year, Arena signed a three-year contract as equipment suppliers for the US National teams.
Take a look at the news blurb Swimming World Magazine ran in its January 1978 issue:
Arena gained exposure when Arena Elite Team member Matt Biondi won seven Olympic medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Young, aspiring swimmers idolize the best in the sport and wear what they wear. Biondi was the best possible advertising Arena could have in the late 80s.
Here is a compilation of Swimming World Magazine's Arena ads from the 1980s:
Then Speedo, at nearly the same time Biondi was winning medals in his Arena suit, signed an exclusive sponsorship deal with USA Swimming. It was one of the most niche market moves in the swimming industry, because now the US National team was required to wear Speedo gear. It trickled down the levels of USA Swimming. Age group swimmers in the 90s grew up familiar with Speedo brand products. Even the number of Arena advertisements appearing in Swimming World Magazine declined.
See the Arena ads that ran in Swimming World Magazine in the 1990s and early 2000s:
Now, Arena is making moves in the US market. The brand has flourished on the international scene; thanks in part to a considerable number of Arena sponsored Olympic athletes, including Brazil's Cesar Cielo and the Netherlands' Ranomi Kromowidjojo.
“I'm really happy about this agreement with Arena,” Cielo has stated. “[It's] a company that has believed in me from the start of my competitive sports career.”
“I'm really happy to be a member of the Arena Elite team,” Kromowidjojo said upon signing her sponsorship deal. “Arena has a great track record making the fastest and best suits, and the company is always working on innovations with the feedback of the Elite swimmers.”
Soni was a huge catch for the US brand. When Soni sported her pink Arena suit at the 2012 Olympic Trials, a month later, a number of 18 & under girls at the Farwestern Championships in Northern California sported the knee-length Arena suit.
“The Arena brand has always thrived on the global scene and I am grateful for the opportunity to elevate the brand in the United States,” Rebecca Soni has said about her sponsorship deal.
She's already accomplishing the goal, shown by how the suits are feeding out amongst age group swimmers.
Tunisia's Ous Mellouli, Swimming World Magazine's 2012 Open Water Swimmer of the Year, is also an Arena sponsored athlete. He commented on the history of the brand when he signed his official sponsorship deal:
“Arena has been helping swimmers to reach their full potentials and realize their dreams for many years now. They have proven themselves to be a leader in the world of swimsuit making. The likes of Alexander Popov and Matt Biondi trusted and worked with Arena. I feel fortunate to join that group of legendary swimmers in arena's quest for excellence.”
There was a generation of US swimmers in the 1990s consumed by Speedo. However, the history of the Arena brand runs deep, especially in the International market. The New Year marks a new era for brands in swimming, and the opportunity for Arena to strengthen its hold on the US market.