At the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Canada's athletes were the envy of the world, not just for their athletic prowess, but for their funky team uniforms. Their Roots-designed team jackets and poor-boy caps quickly became must-have fashion items for fans, foreign journalists and athletes.
Today, Roots co-founder Michael Budman is trying to figure out how and why Hudson's Bay Co., perhaps best known for its tried-and-true Hudson Bay blanket, beat out his company in its bid to outfit Canada's team -- not only for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, but all the way through the 2012 Summer Games.
"Was I surprised [by Hudson's Bay's eight-year deal] Yeah," said Mr. Budman, after HBC yesterday was named the official outfitter for the Canadian Olympic Committee with a winning bid of more than $100-million. "[I was surprised]because we were trying to get involved in the conversation [for a longer agreement]and we were always told, 'It can't be discussed.' "
Officials from both the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Vancouver organizing committee said HBC was picked from among 12 companies asked to submit bids when Roots's agreement with the COC expired last December.
Making the final selection were representatives from the COC and the Vancouver organizing committee, although a merchandise expert was also consulted.
However, Mr. Budman remains mystified. "We were asked to bid on 2006 for the Canadian Olympic team in Torino," Mr. Budman said from his Toronto office. "We think we put in a phenomenal bid, but we weren't chosen, and we were not allowed to bid beyond 2006."
Dave Cobb, vice-president of communications for the Vancouver organizing committee, said the decision to negotiate a long-term agreement with HBC was a strategic one. The company will produce everything from parade wear to podium wear to toques, scarves, gloves and luggage, with all products sold nationally in the company's 550 department stores, including the Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitters.
"Once Hudson Bay won the 2006 clothing package we decided to roll into a bigger deal," Mr. Cobb explained. "The fact is it was a competition and [Roots]lost. We're moving forward with the winner."
Roots first became the talk of the Olympics in 1998 at the Nagano Winter Games when the Canadian team walked into the opening ceremony. Interest exploded at Salt Lake City, where sports fans lined up outside Roots's downtown store to buy shirts, caps, sweaters and winter jackets.
Chris Rudge, the COC's chief executive officer, said Roots was a significant sponsor, but added that the HBC deal will assist athletes in other ways beyond making them look good.
"In the short term, there's a commitment to be involved with sport and athlete programs as we move through the eight-year plan," Mr. Rudge said.
"But look at the financial success of Vancouver: There will be a bigger, on-going legacy for building amateur sport in Canada. VANOC [the Vancouver organizing committee]already has well over $400-million in sponsorship money [$200-million from Bell Canada, $110-million from the Royal Bank and now the Bay's $100-million] It's a significant achievement."
While there may be significant financial benefits to the athletes, there are some concerns as to how HBC will measure up as a supplier of cool duds.
One athlete, who asked for anonymity, said, "You always get free things at the Olympics. But everyone looks forward to the Roots package. The Bay sounds like a great sponsor, so all we can do is wait and see."
Rob Moore, HBC's vice-president of corporate communications said it's too soon to say what the new version of the Canadian uniforms will look like, but the result will be a collaboration of top Canadian designers, including those from HBC, and athletes. HBC dressed Canada's winter Olympians from 1936 to 1968.
"We're pretty proud of the tradition we have in this country and we think it's a natural fit that we now be part of our international efforts," he said.
"What Roots was able to do with the team uniforms . . . they did a very good job. We would expect to capture the same type of excitement both around the Olympics, and around the items that are included in the uniform package. Every year it's something different and an opportunity to capture people's imagination."
The 2006 U.S. Olympic team will be wearing Roots parade gear. The company has also been involved with athletes from Australia, Britain and Barbados.
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