(Photo credit: Livestrong)
Lance Armstrong is finished as an athletic endorser.
On Monday, one of his last remaining sponsors, Oakley sunglasses, fired him effective immediately after the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) decision to strip the former Nike spokesman of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him from cycling for life.
The moves by Armstrong’s sponsors and cycling’s global governing body followed the release of an explosive 1,000-page report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency detailing how Armstrong led what it called the most sophisticated doping scam in the sport’s history.
Armstrong, who maintains his innocence, stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting foundation Wednesday. On the same day, the cancer survivor was fired by Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycle, 24-Hour Fitness and other sponsors. Oakley was the lone holdout at the time, saying it would await a decision by the UCI.
Put a fork in Armstrong on Madison Avenue, he’s done. We’ve seen how endorsers such as Tiger Woods and Michael Vick lost sponsors for off-the-field scandals and crimes. Unlike those stars, the retired Armstrong won’t be able to return to competition to win back the affections of consumers.
This is the biggest athletic fall from grace ever, even bigger than Woods. Unlike Tiger, Armstrong’s transgressions go right to the heart of his athletic achievements. It’s doubly heartbreaking for the millions of cancer patients and their families who were inspired by his story.
If Armstrong’s guilty, he’s got one chance, says Mike “The Reputation Doctor” Paul of MGP & Associates. He has to come clean, admit what he did and ask for forgiveness by throwing himself at the mercy of the court of public opinion.
Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong’s reps are calling on line one.
Here’s my story in today’s issue of Advertising Age on how Armstrong leaves behind a scandal-tainted sport where sponsors are heading for the hills.
Ad Age also has a great tick-tock on the implosion of Armstrong’s Madison Avenue empire last Wednesday. And there’s this look at his legacy of advertising, including the now ironic “What am I on?” blood test spot back when Armstrong and Nike were in their honeymoon phase.
I bet that’s one commercial the Swoosh would like to have back.
To interview Michael McCarthy on the Lance Armstrong scandal, email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Mike at 917-749-2366.
UPDATE-10-17-2012: Following Nike’s move to publicly dump Lance Armstrong Wednesday morning, the champion cyclist’s formerly solid phalanx of corporate supporters fell to pieces within hours.
Anheuser-Buch, RadioShack, Trek bicycles, energy drink FRS., energy foods marketer Honey Stinger and Easton-Bell, maker of the Giro helmets, all said Wednesday they were either dropping Armstrong, reviewing his contract or would not renew when his current deal expired.
The bloodletting effectively finishes Armstrong as endorser on Madison Avenue, said Mike “The Reputation Doctor” Paul of MGP & Associates.
“Any sponsor he currently has is now pressured to do the same thing (as Nike). The legal divisions are saying, ‘The phone’s ringing off the hook. What are we going to do?’ I believe it will be very difficult for any of them to continue with him. What would be the rationale? He stepped down as chairman of his own board.”
For a guy who’s helped raise $500 million for cancer research, it’s hard to believe how quickly and finally the champion cyclist’s endorsement career came crashing down. Whereas Tiger Woods suffered a drip-drip-drip of losing sponsors such as Accenture and Gillette over a period of months, Armstrong was fired by more than half a dozen — on the same day.
Makes me wonder if they know something beyond what’s in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report. Stay tuned.
PREVIOUS: Lance Armstrong must find a new beer and a different brand of sneaker after brewer Anheuser-Busch and shoe and apparel outfitter Nike fired the disgraced cyclist, increasing the fallout from doping charges and reducing his endorsement value to almost nothing.
Saying it will continue to support Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation in its fight against cancer, Anheuser-Busch VP of U.S. marketing, Paul Chibe, Wednesday proclaimed an end to Armstrong’s relationship with its Michelob Ultra beer brand when “the current contract expires at the end of 2012.”
Nike joined the exit parade, citing “insurmountable evidence” that Armstrong misled the Swoosh for more than a decade. “It is with great sadness that we terminate our contract with (Armstrong),” Nike said in a statement. The company also denied a New York Daily News report that it aided Armstrong in covering up the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Nike plans to continue backing Armstrong’s Livestrong initiative.
Wednesday’s moves by Nike and Anheuser-Busch – the maker of Budwesier – effectively finish Armstrong as a major endorser on Madison Avenue.
Meantime, ESPN – citing “a source” – reported that Nike also will change the name of the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center at its Oregon headquarters.
Also Wednesday, the sunglass-maker Oakley announced it it “reviewing its relationship” with Armstrong as it pours over the “extensive report” from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that revealed damning evidence against the cyclist.
– Bob Kimball and Michael McCarthy