Lance Armstrong’s Return to Cycling for Charity: A PR Boon or Horror Story?
Lance Armstrong’s name was once synonymous with athletic endurance. His record-breaking sixth Tour de France win in 2004, less than a decade after being diagnosed with testicular cancer that metastasized to his lungs and brain, was trumped just a year later by an unprecedented seventh and final win.
His professional accolades against the backdrop of his medical miracle rendered him a popular public figure and a role model for many, as evinced by the success of the cancer foundation he founded in 1997, which was then known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The explosive success of the yellow silicone Livestrong bracelet was a testament to the weight of his popularity.
Created in 2004, Armstrong wore the bracelet during his record sixth Tour de France win, bringing instant recognition and support to his foundation in the form of millions of dollars earned from bracelet sales. In total, 80 million of the bracelets have been sold. Basically, Lance Armstrong was a public relations dream.
The Stigma of Lance Armstrong
Today, Lance Armstrong’s name is more often associated with deceit. At least in the context of sports. After years of accusations that he took performance-enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage during his races, in 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) formally charged Armstrong with using banned substances, charges which he declined to challenge. He received a lifetime ban from professional cycling, was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and in an interview with Oprah Winfrey a year later admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during each of his wins.
In the eyes of the public, everything Armstrong represented became a lie. His sponsors dropped him one by one and his foundation formally changed its name from the Lance Armstrong Foundation to the Livestrong Foundation. His PR value was diminished.
Role as Cancer Survivor
Armstrong’s successful battle against cancer, even when his doctors believed the extent of his condition offered little hope for survival, is something anyone can admire and respect. His efforts through the Livestrong Foundation raised over $500 million for cancer research and today the organization now focuses its efforts on helping cancer patients and survivors.
It’s undeniable the good he did for the organization, but it’s equally undeniable the immense negative impact the doping scandal had on his brand and the organization, which is why he ultimately resigned from his official position at Livestrong.
With reports that he’s returning to his bike for a charity race in support of the foundation, questions of whether it’s a good idea are raised. As a cancer survivor supporting a foundation that aims to help cancer patients and survivors, his efforts to help raise money can only do good, especially now that he’s no longer an official part of the foundation.
Ronn Torossian says that, “if anything, the notoriety of his name will bring more exposure to the charity race.”