After being fired by Nike, Lance Armstrong is losing the support of many of his remaining endorsement partners: Anheuser-Busch; Radio Shack; Trek Bicycles; Easton-Bell, the maker of Giro helmets; FRS, an energy drink company; and Honey Stinger, an energy food manufacturer, have all said they are cutting ties with the disgraced former Tour de France winner.
Sunglasses marketer Oakley is waiting to see what the International Cycling Union concludes about the doping allegations against Armstrong, evidence about which was recently released in a report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Additionally, Armstrong's name is being removed from six branded fitness centers operated by 24-Hour Fitness. Nike also said it will now rename the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center at its Beaverton, Ore., headquarters.
David Srere, co-president and CEO at brand strategists Siegel+Gale, said of Armstrong, "He doesn’t just do damage to himself. He damages other people; he damages a sport. It’s like concentric circles of brand disaster.”
As marketers quickly distance themselves from Armstrong, the cyclist himself is stepping down as chair of his Livestrong Foundation in a bid to protect its fund-raising reputation. In a statement, he explained his decision, "To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”
S+G brand strategist Srere said Armstrong's departure from Livestrong is a necessity if it is to retain any credibility as a cancer charity.
“In this age of transparency, in an age where authenticity is actually making a comeback, arrogance is not a characteristic of a great brand,” said Srere. "There are a whole host of foundations, cancer charities where you can decide to give your money. They’re all doing good.”
The exodus of supporters comes as Livestrong prepares to kick off its 15th anniversary celebration, with an evening gala on Friday featuring the cyclist, Maria Shriver, Ben Stiller and Sean Penn with entertainment from the likes of Robin Penn and Norah Jones.
What had been planned as a toast to the cancer survivor and former seven-time Tour de France winner is now overshadowed by the worsening consequences of the doping scandal that caused him to step down today as chairman of his charity.
Armstrong, who still plans to attend the Livestrong event in Austin, Texas, has been tone-deaf in his response to the public furor after the release of the incriminating 200-page USADA report. On Oct. 11, the day of its release, he tweeted an apparent response: “What am I doing tonight? Hanging with my family, unaffected, and thinking about this. #onward.” The tweet linked to a Livestrong post about the upcoming 15th anniversary events.
Siegel+Gale's Srere said Armstrong might be able to repair the mounting reputation damage by disappearing from public view for awhile, hiring a good crisis management team and trying to figure out a way to make something good come out of this situation.