Lance Armstrong has had a rough year, to say the least. On Aug. 24, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from competitive cycling after they concluded that he used forbidden substances. Armstrong decided he wouldn’t challenge the USADA on their findings.
When the USADA stripped Armsrong of his titles and barred him from competing, one would think that the company he founded, Livestrong, would suffer a decrease in donations. In reality, Livestrong donations increased dramatically within the 24-hour period after Armstrong’s announcement that he wouldn’t fight the USADA charges. The foundation received $78,000 in donations in that 24-hour period, compared to $3,200 that Livestrong collected the day before, according to Doug Ulman, chief executive of Livestrong. Sometimes the old saying “any press is good press” is the truth.
On Oct. 17, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong. With donations up from previous years, some people might have wondered why he would leave the foundation he started. For PR practitioners, we recognize this as one move of many to execute a plan to distance Livestrong from himself before he would admit to doping in an interview with Oprah.
Oprah’s interview with Armstrong aired on Jan. 17, exactly three months after he stepped away from Livestrong. People will still wear Livestrong gear to represent the fight against cancer, and the hope that one day there will be a cure. Many people, including myself, don’t care if the man who founded Livestrong used banned substances during his cycling career. Starting a foundation that has raised millions of dollars for cancer research should never be overlooked.
The PR practitioners who handled this situation did a good job. Livestrong is here to stay even without its founder. It was good to try and distance the two to avoid the occasion where a possible donor would second guess their gift because someone who admitted to doping was still involved.
According to the financial information page on the Livestrong website, it has raised more than $470 million since 1997, when Armstrong launched the foundation. Livestrong will continue to raise millions for the fight against cancer because now, more than ever, Livestrong is bigger than Armstrong.