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Marketplace Morning Report

Lance Armstrong ends fight against doping charges

Mark Garrison Aug 24, 2012
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Tess Vigeland: Lance Armstrong stunned most of the sporting world when he announced he would end his fight with anti-doping authorities. Accusations of steroid use have followed cycling’s biggest celebrity around for years. His decision led to the near-immediate move by the United States Anti-Doping Agency to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and issue a lifetime ban from competitive cycling.

Armstrong, of course, has become bigger than his sport. He’s arguably as well-known for his charitable organization, LiveStrong, as those seven titles he held until today. Not to mention the corporate endorsements that have him peering out of magazines and from giant billboards around the world.

Marketplace’s Mark Garrison reports from New York on what today means for Lance Armstrong: The brand.


Mark Garrison: This decision means Armstrong loses a lot, but he’ll avoid ugly, drawn-out hearings with a long procession of finger-pointing witnesses. Marketing expert Al Moffatt of Worldwide Partners says dodging that spectacle is probably what sponsors wanted.

Al Moffatt: I think they did take that calculated kind of business decision-making process to say you’re OK, your personal brand is strong. We think you can rise above that and your brand will stand by itself.

You could also say that Armstrong is betting his personal brand is bigger than the Tour de France or even the entire sport. Henry Schafer of Q Scores says he’s right, at least for Americans.

Henry Schafer: He was the Tour de France. Let’s put it that way.

But there’s an issue for Armstrong. Schafer’s company tracks favorability ratings for public figures. Armstrong is down two-thirds from his 2005 peak. And that’s before the most recent news.

Schafer: He definitely has a strong brand name, no question about it. The problem is over the past few years, his connection with consumers has been deteriorating.

That makes it a tough call for marketers to hire Armstrong. But analyst Paul Swinand thinks Armstrong will bounce back. He covers sports and luxury brands for Morningstar and is also a serious cyclist.

Paul Swinand: He captures people’s imagination, even if they’re not interested in the sport of cycling or the Tour de France in and of itself. So he really is a unique brand in that, you know, he goes beyond sport.

The lifetime ban means no comeback. So beyond sport is now all Armstrong’s got.

In New York, I’m Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

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