Armstrong’s image taking a hit as Landis investigations continue
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Armstrong’s image taking a hit as Landis investigations continue

by Conal Andrews at 3:16 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Public relations efforts limit losses, but drop in popularity is indisputable

Lance ArmstrongLance Armstrong’s popularity has dropped considerably in the past two years, almost certainly as a result of the ongoing federal investigation into the US Postal Services team and Armstrong himself.

That’s according to the marketing firm Zeta Interactive, which said that perception of the Texan has become less positive in recent time.

In 2008 he was clocked at 92 percent popularity. That went down to 86 percent in July, slid to 51 percent in August when details of the federal investigation and has climbed very slightly since then to 55 percent.

``He's flirting with 50-50,'' said Zeta Interactive CEO Al DiGuido,” according to the Associated Press. ``For someone trying to build themself as a brand, that's not a good place to be.''

In August, DiGuido warned that things could be getting critical, both in relation to the Livestrong Foundation and also his various sponsorships. “Anyone or anything associated with Lance Armstrong should be very worried right now,” he stated. “He has faced these kinds of allegations before, but the fuel really seems to be kicking in this time.”

His sponsors all said that they would stick by the rider, yet Nissan recently replaced an ad featuring Armstrong with one using a polar bear to publicise its Leaf car. At the time, suggestions were made that the investigation may have been part of the reason for the change.

What has helped, though, is the way that Armstrong has handled the allegations. He has continued with a very busy public schedule, thus dispelling any notion that he is retreating while the investigation continues. His association with a successful cancer foundation also helps his image, which, according to public relations experts, will aid him to limit the damage.

Overall, he’s probably doing as much as he can do, given the situation. "It's all the right moves. Other athletes could learn from him" said Gene Grabowski of the Washington-based Levick Strategic Communications.

What happens in the months ahead will determine lasting effect on the Livestrong foundation and his legacy itself. Armstrong has employed the skilled public relations guru Mark Fabiani to try to limit the damage, and will hope that his legal team can meet the challenges which lie ahead.

Much will depend on what evidence Federal prosecutor Jeff Novitzky and others can put together, and also what corroborating evidence is unearthed to back Floyd Landis’ claims. As things stand, Landis doesn’t have as much credibility as he would have had he not been disqualified from the 2006 Tour de France for doping, and had he not denied it for three years.

However if one or more team-mates back up what Landis has said about his time on the US Postal Services team, then that quickly changes things. The more witnesses who come forward, the harder it is for Armstrong and others to dismiss Landis as lying and bitter.

Things could yet go either way. But if public perception does turn, it is going to be a tough road for Livestrong. “They are not going to be able to thrive if the person who is the spirit behind it is in trouble," warns Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator. "It is just going to devastate them."

Right now, one consolation of sorts is that the deline in support for Armstrong is nothing like that faced by another high-profile Nike star.

“There's no indication that his negative recognition has grown at an alarming rate,” said Henry Schafter, the executive vice president of Q Scores. “[That’s] unlike other athletes like Tiger Woods, where the negatives went through the roof. He's nowhere near that kind of disaster,” he asserted.

For someone who had a 92 percent popularity racing two years ago, that may be small consolation.


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