Is it really all over for brand Armstrong?
The Lance Armstrong doping scandal has been massive news in sport – one of the biggest global stars confessing to being a drugs cheat was depressing, if unsurprising, for cycling and its fans.
But for most who watched the Oprah Winfrey interview, the overriding impression was that it was all a little contrived, lacking in sincerity and with an agenda behind it.
So what was that agenda? Why did Armstrong choose now to confess?
Arguably, it was damage limitation. With the doping authorities circling above Armstrong and with the truth inevitably coming out, the damage to his global brand threatened to be crippling.
There’s more at stake here than the reputation of Armstrong the cyclist – after all most people have suspected his guilt for a while now.
There’s his Livestrong Foundation, which has generated more than $500 million of funds to support cancer sufferers since it was set up in 1997. The ongoing doping saga surrounding Armstrong threatened to damage Livestrong and the work it was doing.
Even though the foundation recently dropped his name from its title, Livestrong remains intrinsically associated with Armstrong and the doping scandal surely threatened potential future donations.
So where now for brand Armstrong? For me, the confession had similar echoes to when golfer Tiger Woods – another sporting idol also sponsored by Nike – apologised for his litany of sordid love affairs.
What you realise is that Lance Armstrong is more than a cyclist and that Tiger Woods is more than a golfer. These men are global brands on whose reputations rest billion dollar industries.
So the strategic move for Woods was to confess, apologise, rehabilitate and return. Three years after the news broke he’s returning to the top of the game, no doubt forgiven by his legions of fans and, with a few years left in his career, likely to add to his legacy as one of the greatest to play the game before he retires.
With Armstrong, it may be a different story, as he’s banned from sporting competition and won’t be able to use his athletic prowess as a future marketing tool.
But then give it a few years, when he’s done his best to re-establish himself – perhaps not as a great athlete but as a charitable man – and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of brand Armstrong in the future.
– Rupert Janisch, writer, Forsyth Websper