Saturday 20 October 2012

Lance Armstrong Losing the Fan Connection and Regaining It

Most people know about my passion for cycling and that I have cycled up the same Mont Ventoux as Lance has. This week, those same people, have been asking me what I make of all this news around Lance Armstrong.

Hmmm what do I make of it? Double really. I read all his books and even wept at certain moments during those stories. I was a fan, he was/is a legend. I could be a fan again, but Lance is going to have to react in the right way. Luckily I do have some advice for Lance on how he could keep me as a fan, and perhaps others, by working on this fan connection.

In order to make my point clear, I have split up Lance into his different entities or personalities:

The Athlete: Don't get me wrong, I don't condone drug taking, or cheating or lying. But I still believe he was the best cyclist of that era. He was going to win at all cost, like winning against cancer, this meant that he didn't make friends and rules didn't count. They were all "on something," including cyclists from other teams, so that made them all equal effectively. It is common knowledge he did train harder than the rest, so I believe he still did win those 7 titles because he was the best "dirty" cyclist. However for me he will always be 7 times Tour de France winner. In some years you have to go down to 10th place to award a new winner. Therefore the authorities shouldn't award it to anyone else of that era, the Tour de France of those times should be seen as not being won "official" by anyone due to cheating, and close that chapter and open a new cleaner cycling chapter.

The King to Scapegoat: The whole sport and the US cycling association especially benefited greatly from Lance, his story and his rise to the throne. People got very rich in part thanks to him. That lucrative money tap has been turned off and perhaps that is why now this new report has surfaced. But the sport needs to clean up its act, this witch hunt around Lance, and yes that is what it is, was necessary. The USADA needed a scapegoat to ensure that pressure is exerted to change what is bad about men's professional cycling. Without Lancegate professional cycling couldn't evolve. Now cycling should seize the opportunity with both hands, to clean up its act right from the top and make this transformation very transparent to riders and fans.

The  Entrepreneur and Man with A Cause: Lance is totally driven to make a difference in the fight against cancer - he wants to help people who are experiencing what he experienced during his recovery and fight against cancer. He somehow believes that cancer can be beaten, which is a controversial thought but gives hope to people. He sees himself more as a cancer survivor than a winner of the Tour de France. His return to cycling and coming out of retirement was because of his "cause". Promotion of the cancer message was the main driver behind him coming back, not his own financial reward. This is the side of the man that effectively for me and many people makes up for the "cheating" athlete.

However for Lance to win me back as fan, he needs to react in the right way to this crisis. This will impact whether I and others remain fans or become fans again of Lance. I would advise him to do the following:

  1. Stop denying it and stop calling others names, focus on yourself and your own behaviour. Admit what you did was wrong and say sorry - tell us why you did it
  2. Give to a cancer charity [not your own charity Livestrong] all of your 7 Tour de France prize money and winnings and volunteer for that cancer charity too.
  3. Avoid taking a back seat now in fighting cancer - your efforts in this department should now increase rather than decrease - this is the personality your fans are clinging onto.
  4. Provide the cycling association and the USADA association with a report of all the techniques and knowledge you have around avoiding being caught - so that they can learn from your cheating and you can help them clean up the sport.
I wonder what Lance is going to do next to keep and regain his fan connection?