While Mr. Armstrong’s celebrity fed the charity, the charity also enhanced his marketability. Livestrong also engaged in some deals that appeared to have benefited him and his associates, according to interviews and financial records.
In one case, the charity sold the rights to its iconic Livestrong name to a commercial media company that also hired Mr. Armstrong as a spokesman.
“There was a conflict. I felt there was,” said Doug Kingsriter, a former Livestrong development officer. “And of course we run into this with nonprofits. Personal interests, personal agendas, should not be greater than the interest of the mission of the organization.”
As Mr. Stapleton predicted, Mr. Armstrong became a crossover celebrity, gaining endorsement deals with a variety of companies. Many of those companies donated to the foundation, burnishing their images through association with a good cause.
Mr. Stapleton’s company, Capital Sports & Entertainment, of which Mr. Armstrong was the key client and a minority shareholder, earned fees from the foundation, beginning in 2010, based on the partnerships it generated. In three years, those fees amounted to $423,000.
On his company’s Web site, Mr. Stapleton is identified as the chief management officer of the Livestrong brand at the foundation. The foundation distinguished itself by emphasizing survivorship, providing programs and services aimed at easing the personal and practical hardships that come with cancer. Millions of people wore the yellow Livestrong wristbands that became the organization’s trademark and a rallying point for cancer awareness.
As the doping allegations mounted, the foundation’s popularity became part of Mr. Armstrong’s defense. His lawyers invoked his charity as he fought the United States Anti-Doping Agency, known as Usada, whose October report disclosed overwhelming evidence that Mr. Armstrong had doped during most of his career and had supplied performance-enhancing drugs to his teammates. Usada also accused both Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Stapleton of lying under oath in an effort to cover up Mr. Armstrong’s use of the drugs.
Last summer, the charity also ran interference when its executive director, Doug Ulman, issued statements raising questions about the integrity of Usada’s investigation. Livestrong also hired lobbyists from Patton Boggs, the firm representing Mr. Armstrong in the doping case.
Livestrong’s stated purpose in visiting Capitol Hill lawmakers, according to lobbying records, included “issues related to support for the foundation’s activities.” But a spokesman for Representative José E. Serrano later said that the Usada investigation was the primary focus of the discussions.
Mr. Ulman said that the lobbying was related to issues linked to cancer and that any discussion of the antidoping agency came up only in passing. To avoid conflicts of interest in the foundation’s overall business, he said, its executive committee screened all of its partnerships, and a top lawyer who specializes in nonprofits monitored the integrity of its deals.
In an interview at Livestrong’s headquarters in , Tex., Mr. Ulman, himself a cancer survivor, said that the last few months “felt like years,” but that the foundation would endure. It has reduced its budget by 11 percent for this year but expected many of its donors would remain loyal, he added. “In the long run, I think the organization is going to be incredibly strong because the cause is so important,” he said.
Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Stapleton, who are not accused of any wrongdoing related to the foundation, did not respond to requests for comment.
Stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, barred from all Olympic sports, including triathlons, and dropped by his former sponsors, Mr. Armstrong may face civil litigation seeking millions.
John Korioth, one of Mr. Armstrong’s oldest friends and a co-founder of the foundation, said he believed that the interview with Ms. Winfrey would begin to mend the damage. “I think, I hope, that Lance will talk to the media in addressing those things that happened and the public moves on, moves on in a sense that there’s still this organization down in Austin that helps people fight and survive cancer,” Mr. Korioth said. He predicted that Mr. Armstrong would confess to using some performance-enhancing drugs but deny that he was a ringleader.
For Livestrong, much hangs in the balance. Records and interviews show that the foundation has already lost financial support as corporations scale back or end their donations, even though Mr. Armstrong resigned as Livestrong’s chairman in an effort to contain the damage.
Trek, the bicycle maker, has not renewed its pledge to Livestrong — worth at least $1,050,000 over the last three years. , which had guaranteed $4 million a year, has extended its agreement with the foundation through June but with no guarantee, the foundation said. The sunglasses company Oakley, which had guaranteed at least $500,000 a year, said it continued to support the organization but had guaranteed no minimum for 2013.
“What typically happens is that a sponsor doesn’t want to pull out when the spotlight is shining on the controversy and look like bad guys for not supporting a cancer awareness charity,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch. “They typically wait until it dies down.”
In a recent episode of “South Park,” the town’s residents lined up at a pharmacy to have their yellow Livestrong wristbands safely removed. The wristbands are “out,” except at Livestrong’s headquarters, where all of the nearly 100 employees wear them.
The foundation spared no expense on its offices, which resemble a gigantic loft plunked down in a trendy section of East Austin. The same goes for its staff, which earns among the top nonprofit salaries in Austin.
Initially called the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the organization had grand plans almost from the beginning. After Mr. Armstrong won his first Tour de France, in 1999, the group hired a professional nonprofit executive, Howard Chalmers, as its president.
Mr. Chalmers decided to establish a “founders circle” of donors who would each pledge $500,000. The foundation offered a glamorous incentive: finish line tickets at the Tour de France and dinner afterward at the Four Seasons George V in Paris.
“That took us from off the map entirely to on the map,” said Mr. Chalmers, who said he believed that Mr. Armstrong’s good works through the foundation outweighed any misdeeds. “He’s popular as a symbol of hope to many people,” Mr. Chalmers said.
In 2004, the foundation’s fortunes increased drastically, and almost overnight, with the introduction of the yellow wristbands emblazoned with the word Livestrong, an idea developed by . As Armstrong won his sixth Tour that July, nearly every rider wore the yellow wristband. The next month at the Olympics in Athens, the American sprinter won a gold medal wearing one. By 9 a.m. the next day, more than 300,000 wristbands were sold on the foundation’s Web site. By the end of the year, the foundation had earned $26 million from wristband sales.
“What people connect with is Lance’s story,” Mr. Kingsriter said. “Get a second opinion. Get a third opinion. Take charge of your life. Live your life and don’t let cancer live it for you. Those messages resonated with a lot of people.”
The foundation saw its mission as “survivorship” — addressing the problems of people after their diagnoses. Among Livestrong’s top initiatives are survivorship centers at eight major cancer institutions. Other initiatives include a cancer “navigation” program that gives clients help finding government programs and fighting for reimbursement.
As the foundation grew, some supporters felt it had become too glamorous, overly focused on branding, image and public relations. The 2011 marketing budget, for example, reveals a $964,000 payment to one vendor for “digital marketing and strategy.”
Among the projects undertaken by the vendor, Bully Pulpit, was an “open letter campaign” to generate more than 100,000 signatures delivered to world leaders asking them to make cancer a global priority. Livestrong placed a video billboard in Times Square featuring photographs of those who had signed.
“They just seem to be running around and doing all these different events,” said Michael Birdsong, a donor and fund-raiser who has been critical of the foundation. Among examples of what Mr. Birdsong viewed as unnecessary expenditures: the foundation’s plans in 2009 to send five of its employees to post on from the Tour de France.
Misgivings Over Deals
The potential conflicts between the foundation and Mr. Armstrong’s business interests became apparent early, according to Mr. Chalmers.
Mr. Chalmers became concerned that one company, , was using the foundation to promote its brand. The company, which had hired Mr. Armstrong as a spokesman, created a “Cycle of Hope” campaign in 2000 that included an information kit on cancer risk factors and symptoms, with advice from Mr. Armstrong.
“It was presented to us: here’s your cancer kit and we’re providing this as part of our relationship with the foundation,” Chalmers said. “It could have looked to an outsider, Wait a minute, Lance is using his foundation as leverage to get sponsors.”
Mr. Chalmers added that the organization took pains to avoid such conflicts. In a statement, Bristol-Myers said it had sponsored the Cycle of Hope to promote early diagnosis and support cancer patients.
Mr. Armstrong’s empire expanded with lucrative endorsement deals and investments, including Honey Stinger food bars, FRS sports drinks, real estate, the Internet company Demand Media and an Austin shop. At the same time, Mr. Armstrong accounted for 20 percent to 30 percent of the business for Mr. Stapleton’s company, Capital Sports & Entertainment, according to testimony in a lawsuit.
Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Stapleton and the company made substantial donations to Livestrong over the years. Mr. Armstrong gave a total of $7 million, making him the largest noncorporate donor.
Mr. Stapleton, who also served as an executive of some of Mr. Armstrong’s cycling teams, gave up his role as foundation president early on, but employees said he remained a behind-the-scenes presence. The organization’s governing board also had several members with close ties to Mr. Armstrong, including business partners.
The foundation hired top lawyers with nonprofit expertise to make sure its deals were in its best interests and complied with I.R.S. rules. Still, some people within the organization said they felt uneasy over the ties between Mr. Armstrong’s private business deals and partnerships with the foundation.
In 2008, Demand Media hired Mr. Armstrong as a spokesman and reached an agreement with the foundation to develop a commercial health and fitness Web site called ., which would be supported by advertisers.
That meant there would be two Livestrongs — , the health and fitness Web site, and , the foundation.
Mark Zimbelman, a professor who specializes in accounting fraud, and an amateur cyclist who has followed Mr. Armstrong’s career, called the agreement “unprecedented” in the world of nonprofit organizations.
“Imagine if the decided to create a new Web site called ‘’ and sold the Web site,” Mr. Zimbelman wrote on his blog. “On the Web site they sold and other health products and used the same logos that the nonprofit organization uses.”
In 2011, as a result of the deal, the foundation ended up with 184,000 shares of Demand Media at an offering price of $17, according to documents filed with the . Shares soared as high as $25 on the first day of the company’s trading. Mr. Armstrong received 156,000 shares, valued at about $2 million, which he donated to the foundation. Capital Sports & Entertainment received 28,000 shares.
Mr. Kingsriter, who by then had left the foundation, questioned the propriety of the agreement. “It was pretty clear from what I understand that the Livestrong brand was there for the foundation, and , a for-profit that benefited Lance’s agent, in my opinion was wrong,” he said.
Denis Prager, a nonprofit expert who formerly served as a consultant for Livestrong, also said the arrangement “crossed a red line.”
Mr. Kingsriter said he also had questions about a deal involving the upstart sports drink company FRS.
In March 2007, the maker of FRS announced that it would help sponsor the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, which was managed by Capital Sports and owned by Tailwind Sports. Capital Sports and Mr. Armstrong were also part owners of Tailwind, according to court testimony.
The sports drink company appointed Mr. Armstrong to its board of directors and gave him a financial stake. The company agreed to give the foundation a percentage of its profits, which amounted to $250,000 in 2012.
In return, the foundation promised to make FRS the official sports drink at its events, including Livestrong bicycle races, marathons and triathlons.
Mr. Kingsriter said the foundation should have pursued a deal with a widely distributed drink that would have made more money for the foundation.
Under I.R.S. rules, charities may be asked to demonstrate whether agreements are in their best interest, particularly when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, according to Mr. Borochoff of Charity Watch. “Hopefully, they would have gone to Gatorade and other sports drinks and said, ‘Hey, what would you give us for that right to be the official drink?’ ” he said.
FRS has ended its partnership with Mr. Armstrong and the foundation.
For now, one of the foundation’s most generous donors, Nike, is continuing to support the charity, pledging at least $7.5 million for 2013 and 2014. To much public attention, Nike ended its contract with Mr. Armstrong himself in October, saying he had misled the company about his doping for 10 years. A 2001 Nike television ad, in fact, featured Mr. Armstrong disputing the doping allegations against him.Continue reading the main story
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the period of time over which Capital Sports & Entertainment, the company headed by Armstrong’s agent, earned $423,000 in fees from Livestrong, based on the partnerships the firm generated. Capital Sports made that amount in fees over three years, not two.
Nike, Inc. has traditionally been a brand suited for competitive athletes, with its origins rooted in selling athletic shoes, but eventually expanded to sell clothing and gear to athletes and non-athletes alike. Nike has adapted its advertisement campaigns to reach its eclectic audience by sponsoring globally renowned athletes such as Lance Armstrong. Despite the fact that cyclists are in the minority in society, the campaigns involving Lance Armstrong have been particularly persuasive, proving that though a viewer may not have a direct athletic kinship to a celebrity endorser, he may still be greatly influenced by the celebrity’s advertisement message. By focusing on Armstrong’s public revelation of stage three testicular cancer, this advertisement proved itself to be emotionally powerful, broadly inclusive of its audience, and auspiciously released at a time to meet the needs of the company. In addition to emotion, kairos was also undeniably a substantial component to the effectiveness of the ad; it appeared after Armstrong had not only recently defeated cancer, but continued on to win several Tour de France races, elevating him to a lofty status comparable to a hero. Also, Nike was enveloped in public turmoil over alleged unethical manufacturing practices, and the company attacked this rhetorical exigence with this ad. This short but enthralling commercial uses Armstrong’s confession to broaden Nike’s rhetorical and consumer audience, to grip the viewer with a potent amount of pathos to shift negative connotations away from its products, and to promote its brand by aligning Nike with Armstrong’s victory over cancer.
Opening with Armstrong’s public revelation of his case of testicular cancer, the advertisement immediately establishes its pathetic appeal, as the image of an emotional Armstrong emotionally engages the viewer. The vulnerability of such a strong figure in American society, especially one renowned for enduring grueling long-distance cycling races, is a striking means of capturing the attention and sympathy of the viewer. Nike also uses text as an implicit technique employed to dramatize the impact of the message and to reiterate the extent of Armstrong’s condition. Not only does it reinforce the severity of his condition, but it also underscores the fact that Armstrong is so swept with emotion that he cannot bear to finish the sentence. It provides time for the viewer to dwell on the words and their grim connotation. Also, this opening reaches a wide audience, as the emotional devastation of a cancer diagnosis is a commonplace that would be able to reach an expansive scope of viewers. It would resonate with anyone that has been affected by cancer, instead of simply fans of Armstrong or the sport of cycling. As the commercial continues with Armstrong’s assertion that he intends to beat the disease and ride again as a professional athlete, Armstrong looks up into the camera, the only point at which he does so throughout the entire commercial. This too adds to the commercial’s pathos, as it allows a more personal connection to be made with the audience. It also makes his vow to overcome his affliction that much more prominent, which will become a crucial asset for the marketing power of Nike.
Immediately following the emotionally charged climax of the ad, Armstrong’s pledge to defeat cancer, Nike segues into the widely recognizable “Just do it” slogan, and the classic swish logo. This strategic placement insinuates the integration of the corporation and Armstrong’s struggle and eventual victory over his ailments, and the realization of his dream to continue his professional career. This aligns Nike’s legendary phrase with the now legendary success and determination of Lance Armstrong. It emboldens the audience to believe that purchasing Nike products is inextricably correlated to fighting cancer and personal battles. To further elucidate this connection, Nike places yellow lettering against a black background, and its swish logo in black against a yellow background.The use of these colors alludes to Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation, which raises awareness and funding for cancer treatment, support, and research. This reaffirms Nike’s unity with the charity foundation in the mind of the viewer.
This commercial would also broaden Nike’s appeal to a mass audience, as it promotes the shared common ideology in the resiliency of the human spirit. By drawing a parallel between its products and triumph over a crippling disease, Nike exploits the natural tendency of people’s desire to conquer their own personal trials and injects the belief of the attainability of any achievement, with the help of Nike products, into the viewer. This too invokes a great deal of pathos, as it invigorates and motivates the viewer to want to take action and emulate the achievement of Armstrong. The placement of Nike’s logo after Armstrong’s affirmation to beat the disease and continue cycling, both of which have been fulfilled, causes the viewer to cognitively associate Nike as the means to attaining his own personal success.
Understanding the context of this advertisement is crucial to fully grasp how kairos played a pivotal role in this rhetorical situation. In the early 2000s, when this ad was first published, Lance Armstrong was at the height of his fame for doing the impossible in two different realms: overcoming what appeared to be a fatal diagnosis of cancer, and subsequently winning numerous Tour de France races after his cancer treatment was finished. Nike elicited the grandeur of Armstrong’s respected status in society to promote its brand. In contrast to this valiant glory, Nike was undergoing a firestorm of public denouncement and criticism amidst a sweatshop scandal. Outcries over Nike’s use of factories that use sweatshop labor and pay wages below subsistence levels caused many groups to insist that sports teams, universities, and stores sell other brands besides Nike that don’t use unethical practices. Nike utilized the ad and the ethos and credibility of Armstrong’s pristine character to appease its desperate need of positive publicity and to re-establish its public image. Nike’s use of yellow and black themed lettering and texts display the company’s sympathetic view towards cancer, and remind the audience of the major support Nike had given to the LiveStrong foundation. The rhetorical exigence of Nike’s need to affirm its preeminent status was solved by connecting Armstrong’s beloved appeal to Nike’s signature slogan, logo, and company as a whole.
In just one 30 second commercial, Nike was able to catapult itself from a limited audience and a disgruntled labor movement to attaining full attention from the community and restoring the public’s faith in the brand. It employed Lance Armstrong’s illustrious stature and acclaimed victory over illness and competition to propel its status to a company engaged in the laudable task of supporting cancer treatment. It not only parlays the message to viewers that they can achieve success, but motivates and impels them to utilize Nike products to realize their goals. The commercial’s use of pathos allows it to broaden its audience to not just cyclist fans or sports fans, but to anyone who has either dealt with cancer or faces what seems to be an insurmountable task. It utilizes common ideologies and values of triumph over obstacles and the hope of extraordinary accomplishments to engage a wide audience. This pervasive and emotionally enticing advertisement was wisely used by Nike to impress upon an eclectic and comprehensive audience of the company’s positive role in society and compel the viewer to support the brand. By affirming universal appeals, by invoking pathos, and by displaying its connection to a heroic cause, Nike captures support from its audience and seizes the present rhetorical situation.