It's a feat mere mortals can only marvel at — winning six straight Tour de France titles — but that's exactly what super-cyclist Lance Armstrong is on the verge of doing. The annual race wraps up this weekend in Paris, and if Armstrong captures another yellow jersey, he'll add to his reputation as one of the most sought-after endorsers in sports.
“He really will have a smorgasbord — an open grocery store on where he wants to go and fit in,” said Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing, which matches athletes with corporate sponsors.
Already one of the sports world's leading pitchmen, Armstrong trails only Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Andre Agassi in marketing money. He makes more than $19 million annually, according to Forbes magazine, most of it coming off-road from Nike, Subaru and Coke's Dasani water.
“The guy brings it all,” said Steiner. “He's international, his name is known on every street corner around the world — it means something. People know who he is and what he stands for."
All the more remarkable since cycling is virtually invisible in the United States. Armstrong has even managed to avoid potential pitfalls. A public divorce hasn't hurt public opinion.
And while other athletes have seen their images tarnished over alleged steroid use, Armstrong has managed to steer clear of accusations.
"It's a package that fans and corporate sponsors really want to rally around,” said David Carter, CEO of The Sports Business Group. “There's so much wrong with sports that finding a guy like Lance Armstrong the last five or six years has been a godsend."
Marketers say it is Armstrong's perseverance in beating cancer and his drive to succeed that's made him a tour de force on Madison Avenue.
"I think in the next few years, his whole story is a great one and it will be on many shelves across America,” said Steiner. “No question."
And his appeal stretches across a wide range of products, according to marketing experts. They see Armstrong as a natural fit with an automotive company or financial services firm, among others.