Last week, the world saw two athletes fall down from the heavens. One because it turned out he won his seven Tour de France titles doped up like a Colombian race horse after all, the other because he quite literally plummeted from the skies. Lance Armstrong and Felix Baumgartner: two heavily sponsored sportsmen demonstrating how endorsing athletes can make or break a brand. For years, Lance Armstrong has been Nike’s poster boy for success, perseverance and ultimate sportsmanship. He won Tour after Tour, conquered cancer, set up the Livestrong Foundation and was married to a rock star. Lance was Captain America on a race bike and impossible for anyone to dislike.
Lance was Captain America on a race bike and impossible for anyone to dislike
Until the thousand-page report showed up that exposed the greatest cyclist ever as the tyrannical driving force behind one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history. Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before Lance pulls a Clinton and comes clean – pun of course intended. Nike however, decided not to wait around for Lance’s confession. Having stood by Armstrong for years as he fought off doping accusations, Nike now figured their own image weighs more than loyalty and gave their former pet athlete the precautionary boot. Can’t be associated with a possible doping offender, now can you?
Meanwhile – 39 kilometers up in the stratosphere – Red Bull reinforced its positioning as the world’s most innovative sponsorship and content brand, by throwing an Austrian from a perfectly good helium balloon. Over eight million people watched Felix Baumgartner plunge down to earth at an insane 1,342 km/h. Lucky for Felix, things pretty much went according to plan and he made it back in one piece. But lucky for Red Bull, too. Because things could have easily gone horribly wrong. For example, a tear in his pressurized suit could have caused his blood to flash-vaporize, turning Baumgartner into the first corpse to ever break the sound barrier. Watched live by sixteen million eyes. Imagine being the Red Bull PR guy having to spin that story into something positive.
Red Bull reinforced its positioning as the world’s most innovative sponsorship and content brand
Still, I guess it’s less damaging to go for gold and lose a hero in the process than, say, be accused of paying half a mil to cover up the positive results of a drug test of your star asset. Moral of the story: it’s wiser to attach your name to someone that might explode in mid-air during a live broadcast than to an athlete with impeccable performance. Because when things appear to good to be true, they usually are.