20 Million Reasons to Question Lance Armstrong’s Veracity

20 Million Reasons to Question Lance Armstrong’s Veracity

From Forbes Magazine – SportsMoney – May 23, 2011

Patrick Rishe – Forbes

On Sunday night, ’60 Minutes’ aired an interview with former professional cyclist and Lance Armstrong teammate, Tyler Hamilton, who sang a tune we’ve heard before: That Lance cheated.
We’ve heard this from Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour de France champion who later had his title stripped when he was found guilty of doping

And before that we heard this from Frankie Andreu, another of Armstrong’s former teammates

Concurrent with the recent Tyler Hamilton revelations, we’re now hearing that another teammate with perhaps a bit more credibility because of his relatively clean racing record and supposed close friendship with Armstrong (George Hincapie) has reportedly made statements to the grand jury implicating Armstrong’s usage of performance enhancers.

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As Bonnie Ford of ESPN notes, [VIDEO] a confirmation of the Hincapie comments could be the beginning of the end for Armstrong’s veracity. This would trigger a significant reduction in the perception and quality of his Livestrong ‘brand’, thereby hitting his wallet in terms of lost endorsements revenue.
As an American cancer survivor who continually dominated world-class competitors in his sport’s marquee event, his story was already compelling here in the U.S. Given that ‘The Tour’ is arguably one of the most grueling tests of endurance, stamina, and determination in sports, his racing excellence and ability to exude all of these characteristics while facing cancer cemented a life-time reputation as endorsement gold.

Provided that his accomplishments were on the up-and-up.

If Armstrong is truly innocent of ever using any type of performance enhancers, then apologies are due.

If, however, he’s been less than truthful, his reputation will suffer. Though we can certainly understand from his perspective the financial pressure to be less than forthcoming about past training habits and products ingested.

What financial pressures?

– In this 2003 CNN piece written just prior to his 5th consecutive Tour de France victory (he won a record 7 in a row), Chris Isdore estimated that Armstrong earned roughly $16.5 million a year on endorsements with Coca-Cola, Nike, Subaru, and others. Clearly, corporate America was buying into the inspirational Livestrong brand;

– In this 2010 CNBC piece by Darren Rovell, it was noted that Armstrong was still in the top 50 out of more than 2,500 celebrities in the Davie-Brown Index…a poll that measures popularity of various celebrities;

– In this 2010 piece written for Digital Journal, Armstrong tied with Serena Williams as the 13th richest athlete at $20 M a year;

– And this January 2011 piece cites court documents in a fraud probe (involving doping allegations in Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service cycling team) which show that USPS paid nearly $32 M for a 4-year sponsorship from 2001-2004. As far as endorsement cachet goes, this is ‘Tiger Woods good’ as Tiger received $40 M over 5-years from GM to promote Buick in a deal which ended back in 2009.

Of course, Tiger Woods is proof positive that no brand is untouchable. Could any of us have predicted the fall from grace Woods has suffered over the last 18 months.

Ask yourself “Why were so many people angry at Tiger in light of his transgressions?”. And the answer is that the revelations of his ‘transgressions’ made him appear like a phony corporate pitchman. Armstrong may soon face a similar fate if these latest allegations are eventually corroborated.

As someone that lost a parent to pancreatic cancer, certainly I respect and admire anyone that has raised significant money for the fight against cancer. Armstrong clearly should be commended for his efforts in this area, and this Forbes video details some of the efforts of the Livestrong Foundation [VIDEO].

Who knows? Maybe in some crazy way, Armstrong’s cheating (if he cheated) helped pave the way to his global brand which afforded him the opportunity to ‘spread his wealth’ through charitable work and raise significant funding for cancer research. Without this alleged cheating, perhaps millions of dollars don’t get raised in the fight against cancer.

But the shine on the story will lose luster as Armstrong’s veracity is further questioned and eroded, and quite frankly, it’s getting harder to believe his story in light of comments from past teammates.

Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton may come off as weasels, but so too did Jose Canseco and Brian McNamee when they were in front of a nation talking about baseball and Roger Clemens. Is anybody doubting the veracity of Canseco’s and McNamee’s statements now?

As much as I want to believe Lance, we know that:

There was rampant usage of performance enhancers in the sport of cycling over the last 20 years;

– Lance Armstrong won 7 consecutive Tour de France events starting in 1999 and ending in 2005, a period of time where teammates and competitors alike were using performance enhancers;

As such, you either believe that:

a) Lance was so much better than the competition that, for 7 consecutive years, a completely clean Armstrong defeated guys who were doping; OR

b) Lance indeed crossed the line and used performance enhancers despite his repeated denials and numerous drug tests passed.

Are Andreu, Landis, Hamilton and Hincapie all lying?

If Lance knew that these guys were cheating and, as his teammates, their cheating helped his eventual position in the races, isn’t that still cheating on some level?

Sadly, as I watch this story unfold, I can’t help but think about Roger Clemens and Marion Jones.

Roger Clemens has shouted his innocence from the rooftops for over 2 years, yet most don’t buy his story. Armstrong has had as many as four former work associates claiming that he used performance enhancers. But Lance keeps referencing the 500 drug tests that he hasn’t failed.

Marion Jones denied cheating for years before finally confessing to the use of performance enhancers. Is a similar admission in the waiting from Lance?

And as Clemens argued that his former teammate and friend Andy Petite “misremembered” when Petite revealed steroids transgressions undertaken by Clemens, will Armstrong use a similar argument in explaining away the alleged remarks of his long-time friend and former teammate George Hincapie?

At the end of the day, if Armstrong’s past cycling colleagues and teammates continue to find unity, solace, and closure in speaking out against their past boss, then the world of Livestrong might be biking down a bumpy trail towards ‘Tigerville’, ‘Clemenstown’ or ‘Berrywood’.

And that won’t be a smooth ride down the Champs-Elysees I can assure you.

Dr. Rishe is an Associate Professor of Economics at the Walker School of Business at Webster University in St Louis, MO as well as the Director of sports marketing firm Sportsimpacts. Find more at www.patrickrishe.net

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