Armstrong sidelined by commercial strike

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The Tour de France is just underway, but the commercial actors strike could hinder marketers' ability to spotlight Lance Armstrong, last year's winner of the three-week bicycling race.

Mr. Armstrong will not cross the union picket lines of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, said his agent Bill Stapleton, president of Capital Sports Ventures, Austin, Texas.

This will hurt some of his endorsers such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Nike and Yahoo! in making new commercials to run in conjunction with the annual event. "It ties one hand behind their back," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, a Chicago-based sports marketing company. "They have spent an enormous amount of money on him."

EXISTING ADS

A Nike spokesman said there are currently no current plans to air any of Mr. Armstrong's older commercials during the Tour De France.

Bristol-Myers will, however, air existing TV ads featuring Mr. Armstrong on ESPN and ABC, the networks that will televise the event. Sponsors of Mr. Armstrong or the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team are also allowed to use race footage in any advertising or promotional efforts. But even if Mr. Armstrong wins, he will not film any new ads until after the strike is settled.

"We're not looking for him to cross the picket line and he isn't looking to cross the picket line," said Leo Hofmann, senior manager-global marketing services at Bristol-Myers.

While the strike has been a problem for some of Mr. Armstrong's sponsors, one sports marketing executive doesn't believe these companies will lose much.

MINIMAL EFFECT

"I don't think it will have any effect -- it will be minimal at best," said Mike Trager, president of TV at SFX, a New York-based sports marketing company. "He has done some recent commercials, and they are still fresh. These are not new sponsors for him." Mr. Trager added, however, that Nike does like to have a timely content hook for its commercials.

Mr. Armstrong became a Madison Avenue draw last year, pulling in at estimated $6 million in endorsements after battling cancer and coming back to win the 1999 Tour de France. The U.S. Postal Service is the U.S. team's main sponsor, while 22 other companies also signed on.

Mr. Armstrong's well-publicized comeback increased the profile of both the sport and the U.S. team. "Lance's story has been of great interest to the American public," said Mark Gorski, a co-owner of the team, and a partner at sponsorship/endorsement company Disson Furst & Partners, Washington.

During the past year, Nike spent about $10 million on its Armstrong-centered campaign, while Bristol-Myers' media buy is estimated at $25 million.

If marketers miss the opportunity to work with Mr. Armstrong during the Tour De France, they'll get another shot to work with the champion road cyclist this summer. Mr. Armstrong will also compete in the Sydney Olympic Games in September.

Contributing: David Goetzl.

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