The end of Mr. Armstrong's endorsement career came as
abruptly as a bloody pileup in the Tour de France. He leaves
pro-cycling a scandal-tainted sport that will be hard-pressed to
find corporate sponsors for years. And he leaves the open question
of what, if anything, the 41-year-old cancer survivor can do to
resuscitate his reputation.
The carnage that will reshape pro-cycling sponsorships -- which
industry estimates put at between $300 million and $400 million a
year -- began last Wednesday morning. Citing "seemingly
insurmountable evidence that Mr. Armstrong participated in doping
and misled Nike for more than a decade," the Swoosh fired the
native Texan, who'd been an endorser since 1996. The same morning,
Mr. Armstrong announced he was stepping down as chairman of his
The fallout is already beginning. Late last week, Dutch bank
Rabobank said it would cease its sponsorship of professional men's
and women's teams after 17 years because "the trust in the cycling
world has gone."
Rabobank spent an estimated $20 million annually sponsoring the
sport. But the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's explosive report detailing
Mr. Armstrong's involvement in "the most sophisticated,
professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever
seen" was the last straw, said board member Bert Bruggink. The fact
that the International Cycling Union has also launched a doping
investigation of one of Rabobank's sponsored riders, Carlos
Barredo, may also have had something to do with it.
After years of doping charges, countercharges, lawsuits and
lies, most U.S. sponsors already avoided cycling. Now, the one-two
punch of Mr. Armstrong's fall from grace, and the lack of new
American stars, will make potential sponsors even more leery. "Many
companies look at cycling and say, "There's just too much
controversy, too much risk of scandal,'" said Jim Andrews, senior
VP of sponsorship constancy IEG. "There's still lots of suggestions
that doping is going on."
This year's Tour de France, for example, did not have any U.S.
marketers listed among its sponsorship partners. The biggest U.S.
cycling race is the Tour of California, which is title-sponsored by
biotechnology company Amgen and was created by AEG. Amgen could not
be reached for comment. AEG spokesman Michael Roth said the race
had just started sponsor "renewals" but declined to comment
further. Event sponsors include two of Mr. Armstrong's former
sponsors -- Michelob Ultra and RadioShack -- as well as
Mr. Armstrong stands to lose $15 million to $20 million a year
in endorsement earnings and speaking fees, and the total damage may
be $150 million in lost future earnings, estimates Forbes writer
Mr. Armstrong maintains his innocence and has hired former White
House adviser Mark Fabiani for crisis PR. But one way he might
salvage his reputation is by admitting to performance-enhancing
drug use and holding a televised mea culpa, similar to Alex
Rodriguez of the New York Yankees after he was revealed as a