For a slew of brands, this week marked the final straw in years of allegations and doubts swirling around cyclist Lance Armstrong and performance-enhancing-drug use.
Within minutes of Mr. Amstrong yesterday announcing he would step down as chairman of Livestrong, the foundation he created to support people with cancer, his longtime endorser Nike issued a statement saying it was finally done. The company's decision to cut ties -- given not only the scale and awareness of the brand but also its reputation for sticking by athletes in the middle of scandals -- was what prompted more sponsors to follow suit. Over the past day, they've tumbled like dominoes, one after another.
Only one major sponsor is hanging on at this point, and that 's by a thread. Luxxotica's Oakley brand said "our policy with our athletes is to support them until proven guilty by the highest governing body of sport or court of law. We are reviewing the extensive report from the USADA, as well as our relationship with Lance, and will await final decision-making by the International Cycling Union."
As many have pointed out, it's a fall from grace. In a poll of Ad Age readers, 68% said the Lance Armstrong name is damaged beyond repair for brands.
Which means it's also a huge financial blow. Mr. Armstrong's loss of support from Nike and other sponsors will cost him about $30 million in earning potential, according to one sports-marketing agent. "That would include current endorsement deals, future endorsement deals and corporate speaking," said Steve Rosner of New Jersey-based 16W Marketing.