When Doping Delivers – US Postal Service & Lance Armstrong
12th August, 2015
Following the fallout from the recent athletics doping scandal brought to the fore by The Times & German broadcaster ARD last week, this is an opportune time to look at one of the biggest and divisive scandals in sport. The continuing battle between Lance Armstrong and one of his prime sponsors, the US Postal Service.
The US Postal Service was a long term sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s cycling team, partnering from 1998 to the 2004 season. The US Postal Service paid $40 million in rights fees across the 6 year term with around $18 million received by Armstrong himself.
In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s sensational doping confession in 2013 the US Government are seeking damages of over $100 million under the False Claims Act as it was sold on the notion Armstrong competed as a ‘clean’ rider. In the blog Enter at Your Own Peril, Slingshot Sponsorship previously explored the facets that affect a sponsor when the rights holder is involved in controversy, however the current case has highlighted another valuable point of discussion.
The interesting development within the Armstrong vs. U.S.P.S. case is the comment from Armstrong’s legal team that the US Postal Service “got exactly what it bargained for, including tens of millions of dollars’ worth of publicity, exposure to more than 30 million spectators at international cycling events, and hundreds of hours of television coverage”.
Herein lies an interesting argument. The US Postal Service did indeed ‘get what it paid for’ with studies stating it received at least $139 million in worldwide brand exposure in four years. Bolstering this, in a document for a 2003 Postal Service news conference the Postal Service described the sponsorship as “may be one of the most effective public relations ventures the Postal Service, and for that matter, any other global service agency, has ever undertaken”.
The argument posed by the defending council is during the sponsorship of the team the US Postal Service reached its objective of overhauling the stereotypes of the postal workers, increasing brand exposure and driving sales and that the current revelations had no hand in the effectiveness of that partnership.
If the US Postal Service reached its outlined goals it would seem contrived to seek fiscal compensation over a decade after the sponsorship ended. With the battle still rumbling on in the courts only time will tell what the Federal Judge will decide.