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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023

Gold-Plated Push

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo may be 19 months away, but Seal Beach-based swim and sportswear manufacturer TYR Sport Inc. is already putting in the work in order to walk away with a number of gold medals.

One of the largest privately held performance swimwear manufacturers in North America has added some of the biggest names in the swimming world this year as endorsers—including Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and a just-signed deal with 2016 gold medalist Jack Conger—bringing its total sponsored swimmers and triathlon athletes to 36.

Along with the multimillion-dollar deals, it’s expanded its partnership with USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, to gain title rights to this year’s Pro Swim Series competitions.

The recent developments have poised the brand to go head-to-head with long-established swim industry giants, such as Cypress-based Speedo USA and Portland, Ore.-based Arena North America, a subsidiary of Adidas.

“It’s very competitive,” said TYR Sport Chief Executive Matt DiLorenzo, son of one of the co-founders. “So it’s important to be able to deliver a clear message and get to our customer base and help them understand how we can help them be the best athletes they can.”

Sponsorship deals with athletes and linking arms with major organizations, such as USA Swimming, are key for TYR Sport to build influence.

In North America, money spent on sports-related sponsorships is projected to reach $24.2 billion this year and $65.8 billion worldwide, up 4.9% over last year, according to data released last month by the World Advertising Research Center.

Swimming doesn’t represent a big slice of the sponsorship pie, but the sport does have a handful of celebrity endorsers, TYR now backing several of them.

TYR announced in July that it’s sponsoring Ledecky through the 2024 Olympics. The deal is for an estimated $7 million and is what trade publications have called one of the most lucrative deals in the history of swimming.

The 21 year old is already considered one of, if not the greatest, female swimmers of all time. She’s broken 14 world records and won her first gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London when she was 15, taking the women’s 800-meter freestyle. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she won an additional four gold medals and a silver. She’s been named World Swimmer of the Year four times by Swimming World Magazine.

Ledecky has said in news reports that she noticed more swimmers wearing TYR racing suits at meets and said TYR athletes Leah Smith and Lia Neal, who joined last year, also influenced her to choose TYR over Speedo.

Becoming the suit of choice among professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte—likely the second best-known male swimmer in the world to Michael Phelps—has helped the company’s bottom line.

DiLorenzo said the brand has had consistent growth across product categories, including swim, apparel and accessories.

He said annual sales are now at $100 million. Staff size is 200, including employees at its New York offices; the local workforce is at 80. DiLorenzo spends most of his time at the company’s New York location.

TYR hasn’t disclosed its annual spend on endorsements.

Starting Block

TYR, pronounced like “tier,” is named after the Norse god of warriors, and was founded in 1985 in Huntington Beach by Olympic swimmer and Orange County native Steve Furniss and swimwear designer Joseph DiLorenzo, who owns Farmingdale, N.Y.-based swimwear manufacturer Swimwear Anywhere Inc. with his wife, Rosemarie.

Sales in the first year were $750,000. By 1991, they totaled $14 million.

The company was the first to sell swimwear using Darlexx Superskin in 1988. The model was referred to as a “slime suit” because its waterproof coating helped swimmers gain faster times. It also created one-piece goggles and workout bikinis.

TYR moved from Huntington Beach in 2014 to its current 66,500-square-foot headquarters just off Westminster Boulevard to accommodate growth.

DiLorenzo took on the chief executive role in 2010, but he recalls spending time in the factory as a kid at the family-run business, as well as attending countless swim meets and Olympic trials.

“I’ve worked in every department, so I can relate and empathize with all of my employees,” he said.

“I used to cut fabric and put rolls up when I was in high school, so I definitely understand the work that goes into making a suit.”

He said the brand also makes sure its athletes are involved in the design and testing process, citing last month’s launch of technical suit Venzo. The high-performance suit retails for more than $300 for men, and tops $500 for women.

“We bring athletes in pretty much every week to product test and bring ideas so there’s a constant feedback loop,” he said.

During the Venzo unveiling in Laguna Beach, several TYR athletes were on hand, including Lochte, who said he was happy to participate in the design process.

“You’re going to see a lot of world records broken in this suit,” he said at a press conference last month.

The suit is supposed to prevent water from seeping into the fabric, allowing a “higher body position in the water,” and it has a patent-pending taping and inner textile design to support the swimmer’s muscles and help increase distance per stroke.

DiLorenzo said the company’s main focus is bringing awareness to Venzo before the Tokyo games.

“We want our customers to have an incredibly positive experience with our product, and if it’s good enough for the athletes who are wearing it in the Olympics, we hope it is good enough for our customer base.”

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