The Cost of Dressing Athletes – RIO 2016 Olympic Games

There’s hardly a more succinct way to describe the (literal) business of outfitting teams for The Rio Summer Olympic Games than the four words Ralph Lauren has used on their website: You Shop, They Win. Teams from around the world will don their 2016 Opening Ceremony outfits this week in front of a global audience. The US can expect some 6,755 hours of coverage, TV and digital, during the course of the games. Canadians will be able to steam 4000 hours worth of events coverage online. Snapchat has partnered up to capture Olympic moments, presumably for viewers aged millennial and under, too. There’s nothing like national pride to open the hearts and wallets of North Americans in particular, which begs the questions of where the money comes from to clothe the region’s greatest athletes, and how much do the designers walk away with?

Athletes are Draped in Designer From Start to Finish

Designers have certainly gone head to head before the games have even begun. It looks like each label’s game plan is to lay claim to certain key moments of the ceremony, from the first time the athletes step into the spotlight to the last time they leave Rio’s Maracanã Stadium; plus outfit individual teams. Ralph Lauren designed the official Team USA outfits for this Friday’s opening ceremony and are behind outfitting gold medal winner Jordan Burroughs alongside the rest of the wrestling team. Notorious powerhouse Nike cut cloth for USA’s “medal stand moments,” making them the designer of every athlete’s dream, since they’re dressing all the Team USA winners. Medal ceremonies have historically produced some of the most memorable moments in the history of the Olympic games. Canada will take stage at the opening of the games wearing simple and well-designed creations from Canadian design duo DSQUARED2. Hudson’s Bay has what you need if you’re looking to show your support. The women’s line, as seen on gold medal relay sprinter Khamica Bingham, does not disappoint. Nike will dominate the rest of Team Canada’s magic moments.

Ralph Lauren Can Turn Muscle to Money

Financially, these designers are going all out for good reason. Ralph Lauren has been consistently designing Team USA Olympic uniforms since the mega-company got its first shot in 1998. According to Racked, “By 2012, Ralph Lauren stock was trading at more than $170 per share, having shot up by $100 in five years,” during which “The company employed approximately 25,000 people […] and was reporting $6.8 billion in sales and net profits of $681 million.” With their Olympic presence being solidified around that time, it’s no wonder that this year they’ve opted to clothe some 1,100 athletes for the 2016 games in Rio. While the games may not be the sole reason for Ralph Lauren’s profit boom, history tells us that hefty gains for fashion lines like this one are hardly unprecedented. North of the border in 2002, the legendary leather smiths at Roots Canada created a questionably fashionable though thoroughly popular Olympic beret, which reports say sold 100,000 units a day for $19.95 US per chapeau.

Could High Fashion Influence Athlete Success?

While the cost of the athletic facilities, coaches, and doctors is much more likely to influence a win than what the team wears to the games, in a series of events that thrives on spirit, viewers that pay into things like merchandise encourage sponsors like Ralph Lauren, Nike, and Roots to get behind the games and in turn cultivate the athletes of the day. As Ralph Lauren’s Olympic statements consistently point out, there is no official government funding for the Olympics in the US, leaving a non-profit and its impressive list of sponsors to come up with the cash for everything above. So in a way Ralph Lauren is right. If you shop enough over the years, inadvertently, your team may just win. Though it may not be as direct as You Shop, They Win, we get the idea.


Nicole Edwards

Nicole Edwards is a fashion and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. She has worked as Associate Publisher of Private Islands magazine and Lifestyle Editor of Style Empire, and has contributed to NOW Magazine.