‘Armstrong’s brand rehabilitation will take several years’

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs is just the start of a bid to salvage his battered reputation and it will take several years to revive his appeal to sponsors, industry experts say.

Armstrong-Lance-2013
Sponsorship experts say disgraced cyclist’s TV confession is not enough to save his personal brand.

Armstrong revealed to the chat show host last night (17 January) that he had repeatedly taken banned substances during a cycling career that saw him crowned the winner of the Tour de France race a record seven times.

He said: “It wasn’t possible to win clean. I viewed it as very simple. We had things that were oxygen-boosting drugs, for want of a better word, that were incredibly beneficial for endurance sports and that’s all you needed…

“I am here today to say I’m sorry for that. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back the trust and respect of people.”

It marks a reversal for the Texan, who had strongly denied charges of doping for much of the last decade, despite mounting evidence from anti-doping chiefs that proved contrary. The financial impact of recent allegations from US anti-doping chiefs on Armstrong has been huge, with the former champion losing major deals with sponsors including Nike, AB Inbev and Oakley last year.

Sponsorship experts say fully restoring his “good-guy” image, and the earning potential that comes with it, is “doubtful” but honesty and contrition are essential in starting to repair the athlete’s damaged public image.

Josh Robinson, director of creative and integrated solutions at sponsorship agency Sports Revolution, says: “Armstrong’s been lying for a decade so he will need to show genuine remorse over a period of several years and work with the authorities to restore that trust brands and consumers once had in him.

“He founded the Livestrong cancer charity and is a well know cancer survivor. For that reason, many people want Armstrong to succeed because he is their genuine hero. I’d imagine that there are a lot of commercial execs sitting around their boardrooms thinking lets wait and see how this plays out and be ready to leap if the right opportunity arises.”

The comments come just days after Nike’s chief executive Phil Knight told broadcaster TMZ “never say never” when asked if the sportswear business would re-sign Armstrong.

Steve Martin, chief executive at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, says the athlete’s “personal brand as we know it, is done”.

He adds: “An apology on national TV isn’t enough to suddenly turn it all around for Armstrong. There’s a clear mapped out strategy to try and restore his brand, but its come too late and going to be virtually impossible to turnaround now. There’s a real dislike for how he has behaved and what he has done to the image of professional cycling.

“This isn’t like what happened when Tiger Woods admitted to cheating on his wife. Cheating on the pitch is hard to get around. Brands don’t need Armstrong now. There’s no market for him unless he comes out the other side of this rebuild plan with his reputation miraculously in tact.”

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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