Jan. 15, 2013 at 11:55 AM ET
While he can’t save his career or his fortune, an admission of doping might rehabilitate Lance Armstrong’s charity and, ultimately, his legacy.
The road there is more uphill than a Tour de France route, though, and there’s no drug that can give Armstrong, who was stripped of seven titles for that race last year, a boost for this trip.
The disgraced cyclist, who denied doping for more than a decade, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that will air in two parts Thursday and Friday, according to an NBC News source. The talk show queen characterized the interview as “forthcoming.”
“Lance knows he’s poison as is, and my guess is he believes if he apologizes... and cries big crocodile tears it won’t solve his problems immediately, but it will at least start the process,” said Richard Burton, David Falk professor of sports management at Syracuse University.
Although he earned millions in prize money from winning the Tour de France, Armstrong’s brand value lay in endorsements.
“His brand value during his yellow jersey days was almost immeasurable,” said Mark Serrano, CEO of ProActive Communications. “I think there were probably few brands in the world that were worth in excess of $20 million a year, and he was one of them.”
Armstrong had deals with numerous companies, including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Radio Shack and bicycle manufacturer Trek, all of which ended their associations with him after he was banned for life from competing in Olympic sports and was the subject of a brutal report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
“Today we’re looking at a brand value of near zero,” Serrano said.
"He is starting to repair his own brand,'' New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica told Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday morning. But Lupica characterized the expected admission as motivated by public relations and a desire for control, not heartfelt contrition.
"To me this is like some giant, athletic Ponzi scheme that went on and on and built and built,'' Lupica said.
While Armstrong’s host of legal entanglements give him a motivation to implicate others who might have been involved in organized doping, Burton said pointing fingers won’t do his image any favors.
The disgraced cyclist might be hoping that his admission will persuade the USADA to lift his lifetime ban against competing in triathlons or other events, but his cycling career is almost certainly over. “This may be a case of too little, too late,” said Marcia Horowitz, senior executive vice president at public relations firm Rubenstein Associates.
Burton said it’s unlikely the ban would be lifted any time this decade, which would mean Armstrong would be around 50 in a best-case scenario before he could race again.
He’d be competing against athletes half his age, and “if he does well, it’s going to immediately suggest that he’s doping again,” Burton said. “It’s a 'Catch-22.' ”
In the long term, Horowitz said Armstrong’s admission may help Armstrong’s cancer charity Livestrong. He stepped down as chair of his charity in October and gave a “sincere and heartfelt” apology to staff in a meeting Monday, spokesperson Rae Bazzarre told NBCNews.com in a statement.
“The charity is so identified with him... by association you have to believe that Livestrong is going to wear some of that” negative sentiment, at least in the short term, Burton said.
Now, the charity needs the man who founded it and turned it into the fundraising powerhouse it became to get out of the way. “Livestrong has a much greater brand value potential than Armstrong himself,” Serrano said.