Armstrong Loses Marketers, TV Cycling Hopes For No Collateral Damage

Looking for TV commercials starring Lance Armstrong? There won't be any -- perhaps for a long time.

Allegations of doping  have seen to that. Marketers have gone running.

What kind of effect will this have on TV advertising during cycling programming? (No doubt you are fretting big time over this). Near term, it won't be much. The road cycling season on TV is essentially over, with NBC Sports Network and Universal Sports completing their seasonal run of races.

Through the years, perhaps a decade, TV commentators have addressed many concerns about drugs and cycling. But the Armstrong stuff now seems to be overwhelming -- and not much in his favor.

The truth ism much of this discussion hasn't had a effect on TV viewership of the sport. Apart from the season after Armstrong retired the first time, when U.S. viewership dropped, the numbers have been relatively stable, if not improving a little. Tour de France in 2012 averaged 409,000 viewers on NBC and NBC Sports Network, up 29% from a year before.



In the U.S., TV advertisers including General Motor's Cadillac, A-B's Michelob Lite, Radio Shack, McDonald’s, and others continue to buy time -- especially in the Tour de France, and the biggest week-long U.S. stage race, the Amgen Tour of California.  Radio Shack, Nissan North American, and U.S. bike manufacturer Trek are co-sponsors of an World Tour European-based team. So to is Cannondale, another U.S. bike maker, who is also a sponsor of a European-based team.

Much of the underlying drug talk/accusations come from some 11 of Armstrong's former teammates, 26 people in all, in some 200 pages of documents recently released. If there is a silver lining here, it is that much of this drug talk in these documents is about the past -- five years ago, pre-2007. We are told things are different today, with many more drug-free athletes.

One big issue: What effect Anheuser-Busch and Radio Shack's separation from Armstrong will have on their respective overall media plans for cycling going forward -- as well as U.S. companies like Radio Shack and Nissan North America, which are sponsors of teams.

To be sure, the media time spent by those big marketers on cycling events is a drop in the bucket versus their overall sports marketing efforts. But it still brings in a valuable niche audience -- mostly upscale male viewers.

New U.S. road cycling talent like Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney, and Andrew Talansky, are waiting in the wings for their marketing turn. The question is whether marketers will look to them to build -- or rebuild -- what Armstrong has created.




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