One day, you’re the most renowned cyclist in the sport, heading up your own charity to help fight cancer, after successfully beating it yourself. You win seven Tour de France titles, companies endorse you, people wear bright yellow wristbands to support your charity, and along the way, you get engaged to Cheryl Crow. The next day, you’re facing mounting accusations of doping by the USADA, they strip you of your titles, your sponsors drop you, and you are essentially forced to step down as the CEO of your own charity. Is this the very definition of “hitting rock bottom”?
This week, Nike and RadioShack announced they would no longer sponsor Armstrong. Then, several of his other sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycles, Easton-Bell (maker of the Giro helmet), FRS (an energy drink company) and Honey Stinger (an energy food manufacturer), also decided to terminate their contracts. Even the Armstrong-branded 24-Hour Fitness Centers and Nike’s Lance Armstrong Fitness Center in Oregon all decided to drop his name.
How ironic that these same companies relied on Armstrong to help boost their business. Now, on the heels of Armstrong’s doping scandal, they’ve abandoned him. At the end of the day, we’re left wondering what will happen to Cycling now that Armstrong has been banned from the sport. And, how will this affect his sponsors over time?
Didn’t Armstrong learn anything from Tiger Woods though??
After his string of mistresses emerged, several of Woods’ sponsors dropped him, fearing their affiliation with the golf great would alienate consumers. AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade and Gillette all feared the ill effects of being tied to a self-admitted adulterer, and bolted. And, although Nike stood by Woods, they saw a significant decline in Tiger’s Nike apparel line across a number of retailers.
The scandal had a negative effect on The Tiger Woods Foundation too. Woods was unable to play at the Chevron World Challenge in both 2008 and 2009, one of the tournaments that directly funds his Foundation. It’s tough to solicit donations for an organization whose founder is not only absent from his own tournament, but was in the midst of a national PR crisis.
Should companies be a little more cautious when sponsoring a celebrity? Should they ask the burning question up front: “Is there any reason we might regret this affiliation someday?” Clearly, there’s much we can learn from these athletes and their downfalls.