Opinion: Lance and Oprah is about the cash, not about contrition
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Opinion: Lance and Oprah is about the cash, not about contrition

by Jake Stephens at 5:02 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping, Opinion
“Lance was a warrior…but not in the tradition of Hercules. Lance fought for gains in tradition of Bernie Madoff”

Lance ArmstrongOn Thursday, Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey will air on television, during which Mr. Armstrong will confess, to some extent, to drug use during his cycling career. And while the world anticipates hearing the details of his admission, it is useful for those of us who have been on Lance’s rollercoaster for the past 15-20 years to contemplate Lance’s true motives.

Lance’s “confession”, to whatever extent it comes forth, will not be motivated by sincerity, nor by an altruistic desire to correct the wrongs of the past, nor by a desire to be understood by those who supported him, nor by his desire to regain a role of service to cancer victims – though he may plea all of these things in the comfort of Oprah’s presence.

No, rather, quite the opposite: This is about Money. This is about mitigation of multi-million dollar financial liabilities. And, ideally for Lance, this is about the ability to earn more money – to craft a path back to future sponsorship revenues and future political and financial benefits from re-association with the Livestrong Foundation.

Lance’s entire fortune – estimated at $100 million and constructed through fraudulent performances -- is at risk to current and future claims against him. Convicted by USADA as a leader and participant of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” according to USADA chief, Travis Tygart, Lance’s old ghosts have come knocking, this time with the entire evidence of USADA’s thousand page investigation, now public. SCA Promotions is expected to seek repayment of a $12 million bonus paid for his Tour wins, paid only after a prior battle with Mr. Armstrong. The Sunday Times of London is suing for $1.5 million, having previously paid Lance $500,000 in damages in a prior libel case. Ghosts with a taste for revenge, fingers extending for his chequebook, and with an unknown appetite for destruction, and unknown legions behind them to file future claims and haunt the financial empire of Lance.

Lance is his own #1 shareholder. And just like a large corporation sued for damages claimed from spilt oil, abused employees, misleading consumers, or defrauding business partners, the sole shareholder of “Lance, Inc.” eventually wants to be able to pin a number on the pain, to be able to move on. The market likes certainty. It is difficult for Lance, Inc. to move forward in the face of unknown liabilities.

It is even more difficult for Lance, Inc. to expand the business, with its primary revenue source eliminated: Sponsorship income. Sponsorship requires Competition, from which he is now banned for life. Thus, just as the banks have settled claims of mishandling mortgages, just as Shell settled with the government for oil damages, and tobacco companies for health impacts – all with public campaigns to the contrary until the final settlement – we should assume that Lance, Inc. has ongoing discussions and/or agreements in place that will fix and cap his financial damages with the existing claimants. At a minimum, their claims are already filed and thus capped.

Mr. Armstrong has a long history of being a very shrewd business man. His entire comeback tour wasn’t about winning another Tour. It was about money. Lance dominated the Tour de France television ad spots during those comeback Tours, being featured at times in half the commercials during a break. You remember: Subaru. Michelob Ultra. Trek. Radio Shack. And, as a co-founder of his comeback team, Lance owned a large piece of that company, deriving the revenue from the team side too. Lance executed the most profitable comeback tours in history, practically redefining the potential for all future sportsmen.

Thus, we should be certain that Lance’s “confession” is part of the next phase of Lance, Inc.’s business plan. It will have been thoughtfully constructed -- specifically crafted to avoid a dozen minefields of new liability exposures. And it will have been designed to rally forgiveness, from all of us who went for the fraudulent rollercoaster ride. The act and the wording are premeditated.

Lance has a lot of experience crafting carefully worded statements to manage his public image. We, the public, have a lot of experience hearing them. You’ll recall the words “never tested positive” and “most tested athlete ever.” You’ll recall the words: “We like our credibility,” spoken as he campaigned viciously to discredit his former protégé, lieutenant, and friend Floyd Landis. You’ll recall wanting to believe. Well, Lance wanted you to believe. His chance at the yellow jersey’s eternal glory depended on it. As did his multi-million income stream. Do you remember how hard it was to believe that someone who did so much good for cancer could possibly be lying? That was certainly a convenient perception, for Mr. Armstrong.

The obvious question remains: Even if Lance settles with these select parties, how will he avoid new lawsuits and criminal exposure? He will do so by not admitting more than he has already been prosecuted for.

And by taking his chances, selectively, in court. Damages are awarded by courts to those who prove Damage. Woe upon the litigants to prove they incurred damage from Lance’s dethronement. “Your honour, the defendant respectfully wishes to see the downward revenues which resulted from the ad campaigns which featured Lance so prominently. You will recall that these same sponsors came back and asked for more. They renewed their contracts. Is there any evidence of downward turns for these corporations following Lance’s conviction? None.” Those who paid Lance to come speak? They gathered crowds, sold tickets, and reaped the benefit of publicity associated with Lance’s presence.

And the fans? Lance is single-handedly credited with the renaissance of competitive cycling in the U.S., inspiring thousands to ride, to be healthier, to fight harder against cancer. Please, go ahead, try to prove Lance caused damage to them. “We like our credibility.” Lance, Inc. likes its legal position. Lance, Inc. has a history of being successful in its legal battles – and its use of legal threats to control threats to his interests. Counterparties will consider the cost of pursuing their claims carefully and Lance, Inc. will firmly inform them of the likely odds and costs, in case they didn’t think it fully through.

No, the damage is in our hearts. And to the cyclists who were denied a chance at the podium’s glory due to pervasive fraudulence in the peloton. Those are the ones with the real claims, the real damages. And those sorts of speculative damages, cross-multiplied across the complexity of the competing in bicycle race, even a single day race, much less a three week Grand Tour – those damages will never be proven, never be awarded, though the damage occurred. This is why, in honour to them, the lines in the results books should be left blank, the results not re-awarded to other athletes of Lance’s tradition.

The true spectacle on Oprah and in the months to follow will be watching Lance navigate current and future liabilities, criminal exposure, public sympathy, disappointed cancer advocates, and reduction of his anti-doping sentence – all so he can regain his formerly lucrative financial prospects. USADA’s case against Lance was built on very limited, very strategically crafted confessions. It is on us, the public, to remember the deceptions. Ultimately, sponsorship value derives from public support. And from the ability to compete at all…

USADA has Lance in the bag. It should be careful not to miss the big picture. While damning testimony from Lance, finally admitting he doped and testifying against select others may seem like a further victory, and will be gratifying, the victory has already been won. He has admitted his lie in public. Victory should not be compromised for limited confessions that prove nothing more, should not be compromised by giving Lance, Inc its greatest coup yet: The ability to earn millions more on the back of false sincerity and strategic admissions. This would be the worst possible message to send to other dopers. And, speaking on behalf of cycling fans everywhere, we’re ready to get off the rollercoaster.

Ultimately, Lance was a great warrior. But he was not a great warrior in the tradition of Hercules. Lance fought for gains in tradition of Bernie Madoff, as the grand proponent of a Ponzi scheme in public faith. We the people, and the legal system, should regard him as such. The Justice Department should not flinch at the passing of the deadline, conveniently the same day as the airing of Oprah’s interview, to join and reopen the federal investigation associated with the Floyd Landis whistleblower lawsuit.


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