R.I.P. Lance Armstrong brand. By now the world knows that Armstrong has been dropped by Nike and Anheuser Busch. It’s likely that Oakley and Radio Shack will follow. (Check out Ad Age’s coverage and poll on the future of the Lance Armstrong brand here.)
Armstrong himself wisely resigned as Chairman of his LiveStrong Foundation, days before their annual benefit gala event. Both Nike and A-B took pains to reiterate their support for the Livestrong Foundation in their statements about severing ties with the athlete.
As a brand that sponsored him, supported him and even defended him against doping allegations in years past, Nike must be furious. (The question of whether they were ever furious with Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods for their indiscretions while under endorsement remains up for debate). You’ve gotta hand it to them, for they held out as long as humanly possible. And in the end, they did the right thing. By waiting until the evidence was “seemingly insurmountable” they demonstrated loyalty and restraint under tremendous pressure. And by cutting the cord with a succinct and transparent statement, they opted for the high road — a wise choice.
The saving grace for the Armstrong brand, of course, is the legacy of the Livestrong Foundation. It’s helped raise millions of dollars and increased awareness for cancer research. It’s inspired countless individuals — to fight, to give, to pay attention, to work toward a cure. The trick now for Armstrong is to maintain the integrity of the Livestrong brand — and separate it from that of Lance Armstrong, Tour de France winner (and such labels as Cheater, Liar, Bully, Coward, etc., that have appeared this week in the press). Celebrities and causes don’t always make good mash-ups, even when paved with the best intentions (see the current investigation into Wyclef Jeans’ Yele Haiti Foundation).
The other loser is the sport of cycling itself. How can it recover? Like horse racing, which has suffered a withering expose on the use of illegal drugs as well as mistreatment of the animals, it has a long way to go to repair the brand damage and regain the trust of the public. Cycling, like horse racing, should start by cleaning house, from the top on down. Why not just start over at this point? Imagine a sport full of athletes dedicated to pure human performance. Wouldn’t that be something to see?
The biggest loser of all? The fans. Think of young kids — maybe your kids — pedaling their way toward a dream idolizing heroes like Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, and countless others whose superhuman athletic talents are now an astronomical farce. It didn’t have to be this way. I’m a mother, and a marketer. And I know one thing. If my kids want to become professional cyclists (or jockeys), there’s going to be a lot of discussion in our house.
(For another interesting media perspective on the controversy, check out former Bicycling magazine editor Steve Madden’s piece in SportsonEarth.)