Lance Armstrong recently gave up his fight against the USADA charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. While this bans him from the sport of cycling for the rest of his life, and will likely see all of his accolades and wins striped from him in an official capacity, sponsors appear to be sticking with him for now.
Nike, the world’s largest sportswear maker, beer company Anheuser-Busch and sunglasses maker Oakley all said they will be standing by the cyclist. Other sponsors, such as bike-maker Trek Bicycle Corp and fitness club operator 24 Hour Fitness said they were monitoring the situation.
“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors,” Nike said in a statement.
Armstrong’s final statement on the matter of performance-enhancing drugs asserted his innocence while capitulating to the charges by the USADA. This amounts to a plea of “no contest” where he accepts the punishment, but won’t go in front of the arbitration on the matter, which would have likely put him in a damning light by those accusing him
Still, Armstrong has raised $470 million for cancer research, in part through the 84 million yellow bands it has distributed. Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, said that the biker’s work work on cancer will help blunt the impact of the doping allegations. “His story has not been diminished. Here’s a guy who essentially was at death’s door with cancer and came back. That example still makes him very compelling,” Boland said.
Still, Boland notes it could be difficult for Armstrong to continue to endorse bicycles or bicycle equipment since he can no longer appear at competitions. “If he can’t show up at certain events, how do you use him ”
Armstrong makes $150,000 per speaking engagement, which he does about twenty per year. Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s agent, predicts that Armstrong will remain “incredibly marketable” because his fans will stay loyal. “I think if we talked in five years, he’ll still be making speeches, he’ll still have his sponsors, and his foundation will have made over a billion dollars,” said Stapleton.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation actually saw a 30 percent spike in donations after the cyclist’s public statement on the matter. SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell thinks some sponsors will lay low for a while and base their next actions on what has come to light.
“I don’t think it will affect his sponsors unless at some point it’s proven that he’s taken drugs,” Powell said.
AB InBev confirmed Armstrong would continue to be a spokesman for its beer, Michelob Ultra. “He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to helping cancer survivors and their families,” said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing.
Honey Stinger, a maker of energy bars and gels that Armstrong also co-owns, will continue working with him and will continue to support the Lance Armstrong Foundation. There was no immediate comment from Armstrong’s other corporate sponsors, including RadioShack and exercise bike maker Johnson Health Tech.
George Belch, a founder of San Diego State University’s Sports Business MBA program, thinks his retirement means he isn’t a big brand target anymore, but will continue to be attractive to smaller brands. “I don’t see the Fortune 500 companies knocking on his door anymore,” Belch said.