Photo: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images
The International Cycling Union announced that they have banned Lance Armstrong for life and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles. This latest blow has knocked Mr. Armstrong’s image off its lofty pedestal and sent it crashing to the ground similar to Humpty Dumpty of the famous nursery rhyme.How he crafted his image
Lance Armstrong built his image from his phenomenal cycling achievements, successful battle with cancer, and founding of the Livestrong Foundation to fight cancer. In fact, Lance Armstrong became a sports icon that was the face of cycling in America – if not the entire world. He put cycling on the map and created such a powerful persona that many thought of him as the Super Man of the sport.
As a result of his success, sponsors lined up to endorse him. His biggest sponsors included Nike, Anheuser-Busch (InBev), Oakley sunglasses, and Trek bicycles. Nike and Trek stood by him until the end, but had to abandon ship as the volume of evidence outlined in the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) report overwhelmingly mounted against him. Some estimate that he will lose $30 million in sponsorships as a result of his being stripped of his titles. When all the amounts are tallied, the losses could go a lot higher. For example, a Texas firm that paid him $7.5 million for one of his Tour de France wins is asking for their money back.
Why the great fall?
As with Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong had a squeaky clean image that most thought was beyond reproach. When things are going well, such a lofty image translates to big payoff. Forbes pegged Armstrong’s net worth at $125 million. When the evidence against him became overwhelming, his image had a long way to fall. An image that falls from such a lofty perch is bound to shatter and be very difficult to repair.
Why Nike stood by Tiger but not Lance Armstrong?
Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his wife, but was never accused of cheating in his sport. Nike and Trek are companies that focus on sports. Nike knows that sports fans are not very forgiving when star athletes cheat at their game — especially when it is their profession for which they are paid. As my esteemed colleague David Carter who is Executive Director of USC’s Sports Business Institute affirmed, “… because his indiscretion cut to the very heart of competition in sport, if he lacks that kind of integrity there’s no way a company like Nike can tolerate that.”
What should Lance have done to avoid such a great fall?
From a marketing perspective, someone should have advised Lance Armstrong to follow what is known as the fact procedure to mitigate damage to his image. When the problem first became public, he should have done the following:
- Admitted he did it
- Put the problem in perspective
- Proposed a solution so it won’t happen again.
Instead, he tried to “sweep it under the rug” denying he ever used doping or any performance enhancing drugs.
What should he do now?
It is very late, but not too late. To have a chance at rehabilitating his image, Lance needs to “come clean” and begin following the fact procedure outlined above. Continuing to deny guilt when the evidence is so overwhelming against him is a losing strategy.
It erodes whatever trust remains between him and the public. He needs to stop the erosion and begin to pick up the pieces of his shattered image. How can he do this? It won’t be easy, but he can dedicate himself to insuring that doping is eradicated from cycling and all sports.
He can also help the Livestrong Foundation to continue its great work helping cancer victims. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, he has a chance to put the pieces of his shattered image back together again. Let’s hope he does.
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