Livestrong, Nike stand by Armstrong despite lifetime ban, loss of Tour titles

AUSTIN, TX: Livestrong is focusing on personal outreach to its supporters after the US Anti-Doping Agency banned founder Lance Armstrong from cycling and said it stripped him of his Tour de France titles.

AUSTIN, TX: Livestrong is focusing on personal outreach to its supporters after the US Anti-Doping Agency banned founder Lance Armstrong from cycling and said it stripped him of his Tour de France titles.

The foundation has reached out to supporters and stakeholders through Facebook, Twitter, and emails from CEO Doug Ulman, said Katherine McLane, VP of communications at the nonprofit. Livestrong is not working with an agency on its response to the USADA's decision, she said.

McLane explained that the organization is “relieved” by [Armstrong's] decision because it brings an end to years of speculation about Armstrong's record. Livestrong will attempt to return the focus to the people it serves, she said.

Armstrong will continue to serve as chairman of the foundation, McLane added.

“Livestrong has raised close to $500 million for the fight against cancer and served 2.5 million people affected by cancer. We're proud of that record, and [Armstrong] will continue to steer the course of this organization,” McLane said.

The USADA said Thursday that Armstrong will be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from the sport. The ban followed Armstrong's decision to stop fighting accusations that he used steroids during his record-setting career.

In a statement Thursday, Armstrong maintained his innocence, saying that "from the beginning, this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs." He also cited the toll the inquiry has taken on him and his family.

Livestrong issued a statement of support for Armstrong on Thursday night, citing his work against cancer. Nike, a sponsor of Armstrong's, has also stood by the athlete.

“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors,” Nike said in a statement.

Agency executives shared their recommendations for Livestrong, Nike, and Armstrong on Friday.

Ashley McCown, president of Solomon McCown & Company – “Livestrong has a long track record of doing great things, and Armstrong has been a role model to many. The foundation can continue to do good work, but they should find different ways to engage stakeholders besides using Lance.

Armstrong's decision is an admission of guilt. If Nike has any planned appearances or activities with him, they should put those on hold and take a breather. Nike should seriously consider whether to sever its relationship.”

David Chamberlin, EVP and GM of Edelman Dallas – “I'm not sure perception [of Livestrong] will change much from what it was before. Livestrong at its heart is about fighting cancer, so in terms of Armstrong fighting [cancer], the heart of who they are stays true.  

With Nike, there are a lot of factors to take into account, but I'd argue that the damage that's been done to [Armstrong's reputation] has already been done. This clears the path. A bigger decision is whether [Armstrong] will have the same brand appeal that someone like Michael Jordan has years after he stopped playing.”

Sean Smith, SVP for reputation management and crisis communications, Porter Novelli – “Armstrong is taking a unique approach to this, saying he's innocent but accepting the results simply because he is tired of fighting. For someone who never backed down from a challenge, including beating cancer, it risks ringing a little hollow. But Armstrong has generated a tremendous amount of goodwill over the years, and I expect his sponsors to stand by him and to mimic his stance as their rationale.”     

Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR – "Brand Lance is damaged but can be repaired -- if he is smart, he will be reassembled as a wounded warrior, apologetic but facing forward, damaged and repaired. Nike can shrug this off as ancient history, and it will ride this out."

Carreen Winters, EVP of reputation management, MWW – “For many people, [Armstrong] is more associated with his work with cancer than his Tour de France titles. His reputation and reason to be relevant in the world is well-established, and one could argue that the controversy over him being stripped of his [titles] will only be another demonstration of Armstrong triumphing over an adversary.

It's never good for an athlete to have their integrity questioned. That said, controversy can create relevance and get people talking about Livestrong in a way they haven't since the foundation launched the yellow bracelet.”

Michael Robinson, EVP of Levick –“Whatever happens to Armstrong, cancer will still be an issue that millions of Americans have to deal with. Livestrong outlives this in a meaningful way, because their core area of concern is still important.

As for Nike, the last time [Armstrong] won the Tour de France was years ago. They're looking at this through the rearview mirror, and I don't expect them to change anything unless actual proof occurs. It's a good strategy.

The tried and true rule of crisis communications is if it's not going to end well, end it quickly. The greater the extent to which Armstrong and his people can try to bring this to an end, the better.”

Mike Paul, president and senior counselor at MGP & Associates –“Nike has a big decision to make. Their overall company message is the opposite of being associated with PEDs. It's in everyone's best interest to not be associated with Armstrong until he speaks directly to the world to say whether he has or has not used steroids and we know the full truth.”

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