Scandalous, Contrite High-Performance Athletes Find Their Way Back To TV

NBCUniversal’s cable sports channel NBCSN is in the midst of its live three-week road cycling event: The Tour De France. Does it need some big-name promotional help?

The network, its former monikers and corporate entities, have been airing the race for years. A niche, but loyal number of viewers regularly view -- averaging around 250,000 Nielsen viewers in recent years for its live airings, boosting to over 400,000 for the last day of the 21 stage race.

But for years, the road cycling event on U.S. airwaves hasn’t mentioned one of the most recognizable cycling athlete names: Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong won seven Tour de France races before being stripped of those titles after his revelations and confession of performance-enhancing drugs. His name has barely been mentioned since he left the sport in 2011. In 2013, he admitted to performance drug use. Since he retired, TV ratings of the race have dipped.

Then, on Tuesday, the live broadcast of this year's stage 4 of the Tour De France had Lance Armstrong on camera offering some analysis of the race -- but nothing of his controversial past.



After this interview, there was an on-air promo read by NBCSN Tour de France announcer Phil Liggert about an upcoming special on NBCSN: “Lance Armstrong: The Next Stage” -- a 30-minute interview shown directly after the live airing of stage 4.

It was a bit of product placement/branded entertainment for NBCU’s other cycling programming, and additionally, for Armstrong, in part to hype his own YouTube TV series “The Move.”

All this isn’t unusual for video promotion. Time can heal lots of wounds, especially when contrition is in abundance. Armstrong did much of this, and continues to do so.

But what does it mean to networks when they highlight specific athletes performance endeavors for years -- when PED use or other inappropriate behaviors are later revealed?

We are not just talking about cycling.

In baseball, for example, we had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, all being associated with PEDs.  Then there is Pete Rose, who admitted to betting on Major League Baseball games. Rose is still trying to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rodriguez, for one, figured out a way back -- to the TV airwaves. The former New York Yankee is currently an ESPN analyst for Major League Baseball games.

Many athletes can show lots of remorse in the press and elsewhere after their misdeeds. But what actually comes next for them and the TV networks they appear on? Perhaps some daylight.

For instance, Armstrong and his YouTube show do have sponsors. His YouTube “The Move” show has Tequila Patron as a main on-screen logo sponsor of show, as well as a sponsor/product-placement deal from cold-brew brand High Brew Coffee.

So, maybe there is another story to tell — with less of a race to the finish line.

2 comments about "Scandalous, Contrite High-Performance Athletes Find Their Way Back To TV".
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  1. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, July 11, 2019 at 3:48 p.m.

    As an Olympian I suggest you are perhaps on tricky ground.  I suggest that unfortunately it is the "bad boys and girls" of elite sports that help drive ratings by both detractors and supporters.  While one would argue that the "worst" crimes of these "scandalous, contrite high-performance incredible athletes" are the ones that use PED's, as its Wimbledon week, who did not want to watch John McEnroe or now watch Serena Williams plus, as already proven by the audience in the stands, Nick Kyrgios whose outbursts have entertained us one way or another?  
    The audiences in the stadiums and on TV to the recent Women's World Cup football set all- time records with huge increases.  And yet as a former certified FA referee and in consultation with a couple of experienced US soccer coaches we concluded that the refereeing was generally appalling.  There were disallowed goals that should have stood; penalty kicks that should have never been awarded; and the most significant crime - that certain games were essentially decided by the referee on iffy calls at best, even if we were generous, extremely late in the game.  Were the losing teams in these cases cheatedout of a possible decision?  Officials should always do everything possible not to essentially decide games!  This raises the eternal question from elite athletes across all sports.  Why are the officials that are responsible for egregious errors rarely vilified by commentators or the press unlike the athletes?  So, Wayne, there is another story to tell!
    After the Olympic gold medal drug scandal involving Ben Johnson of Canada (100m track), I shared time with a lifelong sportswriter for the British quality broadsheet press who was covering the Federal Inquiry of the Ben Johnson case in Toronto that actually gave the athletic world a performance drugs lesson.  I have never forgotten his hypothesis from this completely unacceptable but sad behaviour by a superb sprinter and his coach.  If there were an Olympics with drugs allowed and one with proper bans, which one would generate the largest audiences?  It was a rhetorical question but perhaps Media Post sports enthusiasts should weigh in on this and perhaps the Women's World Cup refereeing and the use of VAR?

  2. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, July 16, 2019 at 5:36 p.m.

    Let's take the issues one at a time simply:
    !.  An Olympics that bans drugs would attract a larger audience than one that allows drugs.
    In the latter situation, one might as well watch the WWF...or Donald Trump.
    2.  The quality of refereeing, especially at a Women's World Cup, will always be an issue.
    Three significant changes to the Game itself were made this year.  People need to be more relaxed and less contentious.  A wise observer noted: "Such is the life of a referee, he or she will never please everyone, but they will more often than not be in the eye of any storm."
    3.  VAR has made the Game fairer than ever before.  There is no basis upon which to ignore or to normalize referee error.  Refs are human umpires, not sports gods.  It also helps to minimize the potential for problems associated with the second question.

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