Lance Armstrong’s Confession: A PR Win for Oprah?

Lance Armstrong

Lance ArmstrongIn a breaking story that will surprise very few, sources close to Lance Armstrong confirm that he used his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey (taped yesterday) to admit that he took illegal, performance-enhancing substances throughout his cycling career–and that he plans to testify against officials who “encouraged” the practice.

Even as Armstrong confessed to what pretty much everyone suspected, he also seems to have hedged a bit, using the “everybody was doing it” defense to argue that he was not, in fact, a doping “ringleader”. Given his extremely aggressive PR efforts in denying all relevant accusations for years, we’re not quite sure anyone will buy that line–but he clearly made a strategic decision in the interest of saving what’s left of his multimillion dollar reputation. By testifying against others involved in the scandal, he hopes to overcome his lifelong ban from competitive sports so he can continue to compete in “triathalons and running events” while raising money for his charity.

This is obviously a big story, and some within the industry see it as a major PR win for Oprah, whose influence has been slipping of late as her OWN Network struggles to gain viewers and seeks media attention via moves like a partnership with The Huffington Post. Oprah clearly aims to make the most of the interview–she’s splitting it into two parts, and directly after its conclusion she tweeted:

David E. Johnson, CEO of Atlanta-based PR firm Strategic Vision, sees the story as a much bigger PR win for Oprah than for Armstrong himself, writing:

The Lance Armstrong admission of doping and apology is a godsend to Oprah Winfrey and her network. She is earning millions of dollars of free publicity and advertising. Reporters are all talking about the upcoming interview with Armstrong…millions who have never watched OWN will be tuning in to her interview with Armstrong and if only a fraction tune into other shows on the network she is a winner…publicity people are not asking ‘Can OWN survive?’ but ‘Are you going to be watching it?’

While we can’t really see Staten Island Law becoming a breakout hit, there’s little doubt that this week will bring more eyes to OWN than ever before. It’s win-win for Oprah.

So is the famously combative Lance Armstrong now a thing of the past? Nope.

While he stopped by the Livestrong offices to apologize to his employees and does not plan to “snitch” on his teammates, he does seem to have a score to settle with officials in the cycling world. In order to get his ban removed, he will testify against “the people who helped him dope”, including past and current presidents of the cycling union. This is a classic case of testifying against his own partners in crime, no?

PR pros: Will this interview help Oprah regain her position as Queen of Everything? Will the public accept Armstrong’s confession, or should he quietly disappear (yeah, right)?