Nike Drops Armstrong; Cyclist Resigns From Livestrong

As Doping Scandal Escalates, Will Anheuser-Busch, Oakley Follow?

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Update: Oakley this afternoon said it was "reviewing its relationship" with Lance Armstrong in the following statement: "As we have stated in the past, Oakley does not approve in any way the use of illegal substances for enhancing performance in sports. 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. Anheuser-Busch, too, has dropped out. "We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012," said Paul Chibe, VP U.S. Marketing, Anheuser-Busch. "We will continue to support the Livestrong Foundation and its cycling and running events."

Citing "seemingly insurmountable evidence" that Lance Armstrong "misled Nike for more than a decade," the athletic products giant today fired the seven-time Tour de France winner. The move came only hours after its own name was dragged through the mud surrounding the scandal; on Tuesday, Nike vehemently denied a New York Daily News report that it aided Mr. Armstrong in covering up use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," said the Swoosh in a statement. "Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner. Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer."

Mr. Armstrong, meanwhile, announced today he's stepping down as chairman of the Livestrong charity so the group can focus more clearly on its cancer-fighting mission rather than the mounting problems surrounding its founder. He stepped down after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a comprehensive report detailing evidence of doping allegations against Armstrong and his teammates.

The dismissal by Nike -- which stood by golf superstar Tiger Woods when news of his extramarital affairs became public in 2009 leading other sponsors such as Accenture to drop him, and stood by Kobe Bryant when the NBA superstar was charged with sexual assault in 2003 -- effectively finishes Mr. Armstrong as an endorser on Madison Avenue. Sports-marketing experts predict that with Nike ditching Mr. Armstrong, other sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and Oakley will likely follow this week.

Neither A-B, which yesterday issued a public statement of support for Armstrong, nor Oakley could be reached at presstime.

Mr. Armstong is working with crisis PR expert Mark Fabiani, the former White House special counsel who defended President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton during the Whitewater scandals of the 1990s and spearheaded U.S. Presidential candidate Al Gore's communications during the Florida recount controversy.

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