A lesson in how not to build a brand
I have a theory. Lance Armstrong was a businessman first and an athlete second. He was primarily interested in building Lance, Inc. and everything he did from an athletic point of view was in service to Lance, Inc. This is how he justified using any and all means available to him in order to accomplish his goal of building an entity that (i) trounced the competition, (ii) cornered the endorsement market, and (iii) protected its trade secrets with security equivalent to that of the Cold War Kremlin. Lot’s of companies do this, so no big deal, right? For God’s sake, the company that manufactured the Mac Air on which I am working operates not at all dissimilarly.
Typically, the American public is understanding of this behavior because as aggressive as it is, it is the way of a capitalistic world. Now you might say, “but performance enhancing drugs are ILLEGAL. They are B-B-BANNNED.” Yes, I know, steroids, EPO and blood doping are illegal and indeed “banned” substances in cycling. But, the fact of the matter is that the level playing field in cycling during Lance’s era was doped athletes and the governing bodies that were tasked with policing the sport were complicit to downright supportive. I get it; Lance was a cheater. But the impact of that is greatly diminished by the fact that cheating was commonplace and there was an Omerta between many, many cyclists to keep that cheating within the insular world of cycling.
Now, where Lance bugs me is not that he cheated, denied it for years and years, positioned himself as a victim and acted with complete indignation whenever confronted with a question about his veracity related to PED’s. No, what bugs me is the way Lance was so interested in the complete world domination of Lance, Inc. that he not only denied allegations of doping, but he also went after his detractors with a vengeance. The US Postal Service team’s masseuse, Emma O’Reilly? Well, she became a prostitute with a drinking problem when she dared talk about Lance’s doping in 2003. He attacked teammates personally taking not a moment’s hesitation when deciding to ruin their careers and their lives so Lance, Inc would continue to flourish. Just ask former teammates Frankie (and wife Betsy) Andreau, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer – guys who rode in front of and around Lance through all of it. They protected him and rode him, along with the drugs they were all on, to seven Tour victories. And when those men were caught cheating and forced to come clean, taking their own shot at redemption, Lance bludgeoned their character with a vengeance; almost with glee – because they were now threatening Lance, Inc. They were breaking the Omerta – blood in; blood out.
Lance Armstrong is certainly a liar, a megalomaniac, a narcissist and a cheater but in the current sports era, that makes him a dime a dozen. No, what separates Lance Armstrong is that not only is he all of those things but most damningly, he is a really bad guy. And being a truly bad guy is innate in your DNA and is not something the American public is forgiving of. So all of the hard work Armstrong put in to building Lance, Inc. including the ever-popular charitable arm of it, Livestrong (sort of how a big company devotes a small share of its profits to a charity so they can sell more stuff), has been for naught. Redemption is not lurking around the corner for Lance, Inc.
This is a lesson in how not to build a business and a brand.