The foundation says that its 2011 donations are up, year over year. But more than a third of the foundation’s support comes from corporate sources and cross-marketing deals with Armstrong’s sponsors, starting with that $7.5 million from Nike. If he is sanctioned for doping, then that money, and revenue from his other sponsors, becomes vulnerable. While Nike and RadioShack say they are sticking by Armstrong, that can always change: when Marion Jones was busted for doping, Nike dropped her.
More tellingly, the Livestrong Challenge ride and run events—which depend on people asking friends and neighbors for donations—are bringing in much less money these days. The rides raised only $6.3 million in 2011, before expenses, versus more than $11 million the previous year, according to the foundation’s 2010 annual report. “It was a lot more difficult to raise $250 for Livestrong this year,” says one longtime foundation fundraiser. “People asked a lot more questions.”
For his part, Armstrong is staying the course: he’s innocent, he says, and the public backing that he and Livestrong need will always be there. “I can only tell you what people come up and say with regard to that,” he told me. “The support might even go to a place where they say, ‘I don’t fucking know, and I don’t care. I know what Livestrong means to myself and my family. That’s what I care about.’ ”
Still, in a 2006 deposition in another court case, even Armstrong sounded worried about how a scandal could affect his sponsors and followers. “If you have a doping offense or you test positive, it goes without saying that you’re fired, from all of your contracts,” he said. “It’s not about money for me. It’s all about the faith that people have put in me over the years. All of that would be erased. So I don’t need it to say in a contract, You’re fired if you test positive. That’s not as important as losing the support of hundreds of millions of people.”
BILL GIFFORD (@billgifford) is A LONGTIME CONTRIBUTOR TO OUTSIDE.