As Lance Armstrong's sponsors consider how to react to the
cyclist being dropped by two major sponsors and stepping down as head of
his Livestrong foundation, experts say it likely means one thing:
Armstrong's endorsement career is over.
On Wednesday afternoon,
hours after Nike announced it had cut ties with Armstrong,
Anheuser-Busch, which used the cyclist to pitch Michelob, said in a
statement that "we have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance
That was followed by Honey Stinger, a Colorado
company that markets energy foods, which announced it was "in the
process of removing Lance Armstrong's image and endorsement from our
Expect more to follow.
possible (endorsement) avenue I see for him now is something related to
fighting cancer," says Bob Dorfman, an executive vice president at the
San Francisco ad agency Baker Street Advertising. "He fought that battle
and inspired a lot of people. Maybe you could somehow isolate that. Is
there a shot at anything else? No way. ... The first thing you want in
an endorser is somebody who is sincere. Obviously, that's not Lance
On Wednesday, Livestrong, the foundation to support
cancer patients that Armstrong founded after his own battle with the
disease, announced the cyclist is stepping down as chairman but would
remain involved in foundation events.
Nike made its
announcement after reviewing the evidence against Armstrong in the U.S.
Anti-Doping Agency's case file and concluding that Nike had been
'misled' by the cyclist for more than 10 years.
Armstrong's problem going forward? Credibility.
Carter, a Los Angeles-based sports marketing consultant, suggests any
attempt to salvage Armstrong's image with advertisers needs to start
with an apology and admission of some wrongdoing. "Until he comes clean,
it will be difficult for anybody to use him. ... If he can't be the
face of his own organization, how can he be the face of anybody else's?"
That doesn't mean his existing sponsors will publicly drop him. They may just stop using him.
could ask themselves whether they should just quit featuring him, or
should they drop him publicly to protect their brand? There is a
shrinking pool of consumers who'd have a problem with him being dropped.
But I'd guess a lot of companies would just like this to drift away."
which famously gave $25,000 to the Tonya Harding Defense Fund in 1994,
can be public and decisive in its responses to controversies involving
its athlete-endorsers -- but most companies aren't.
by USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, several of Armstrong's sponsors
either didn't immediately return calls or didn't have immediate
responses regarding their current position on Armstrong.
Health Tech, in a statement, says it "plans to continue its support of
Livestrong and its mission to unite, inspire and empower people" -- but
makes no mention of Armstrong individually.
One sponsor --
RadioShack -- seemed to take the approach of saying little about the
cyclist. The company said it has "no current obligations" to Armstrong
from an endorsement deal it signed in July 2009, but would disclose
nothing else about the relationship.
RadioShack says it continues
to work with Livestrong. "Concerning the Foundation, we continue to be
proud of what we've accomplished with our customers in generating more
than $16 million to date in the fight against cancer," the company said.
probably shouldn't worry about offending many consumers by dropping
Armstrong publicly. Armstrong's image, according to the Davie Brown
Index, which uses a pool of 4.5 million consumers to evaluate celebrity
marketability, had already taken a huge dive even before Nike's move.
of Oct. 12, says the index, Armstrong had 98% national name awareness.
But among the 3,000 celebrities ranked, his appeal to consumers had
fallen to No. 2,064 on that list.
At present, says the survey,
Armstrong's ranking as someone consumers aspire to be like is on a level
with Ivanka Trump; his trustworthiness is on par with Hugh Grant; his
endorsement potential is comparable to Fred Willard; and his influence
is at about the same level as Khloe Kardashian.