McLane agrees. “If we applied the science we already have, we could cure almost everybody,” she says. “The search for a cure could have already been successful. It’s removing the barriers to the treatment that can cause that cure that is the real problem for many people all over the world.”
AFTER ARMSTRONG RETIRED FROM CYCLING, the only direction his foundation seemed to be moving was down. In 2005, the last year he won the Tour, revenues grew to $52 million, fueled largely by the famous $1 Nike Livestrong wristband. But when Armstrong left the spotlight, the wristband fad waned and foundation revenues sagged by $20 million the next year.
They stayed lower despite a notable success in 2007, perhaps Livestrong’s greatest achievement. Armstrong spent much of that year campaigning for Proposition 15, a Texas ballot initiative to create a huge pool of public money for cancer research and prevention. He worked the Texas legislature and traveled the state by bus with then state representative Patrick Rose, and the measure passed. “There is no chance that Prop 15 would have become a reality but for Lance’s personal involvement,” Rose says today.
But it took Comeback 2.0 to put Livestrong on people’s radar again. Armstrong announced his plans in a September 2008 Vanity Fair interview, in which he said his return would be built around what he called a “global cancer summit.” The comeback was portrayed as a completely charitable mission. “I am essentially racing for free,” he told the magazine. “No salary. No bonus. This one’s on the house.”
His reboot was a smashing success: huge crowds and adoring headlines greeted Armstrong’s return to racing at the Tour Down Under in Australia. In Sacramento, fans lined the prologue course of the Tour of California waving yellow signs with the Lance face and the slogan HOPE RIDES AGAIN. He ended up with a podium finish at the 2009 Tour de France, and Livestrong revenue surged back over the $40 million mark.
But the comeback also saw Livestrong’s final evolution from a research nonprofit into something that looks more like a hip marketing agency. Rather than funding test-tube projects, it was deploying buzzwords like leverage, partnering, and message.
One way to spread the message is to slap Livestrong’s name on just about everything, from Livestrong Survivorship Centers of Excellence (there are eight at major hospitals nationwide) to Oakley sunglasses to, at one point, a Livestrong Build-a-Bear (complete with yellow cycling outfit). The Livestrong label is so appealing that the owners of the Major League Soccer franchise Sporting KC decided to donate the naming rights for its new stadium, guaranteeing the foundation $7.5 million over six years. Normally, a corporation would pay to have its name put on such a venue, but team owners are betting that Livestrong Sporting Park will attract more business and goodwill than, say, AT&T Arena would. (Lance even has his own seat: Box 1, Seat 007.)
Did the doping allegations bother them? “We asked the foundation about that,” says team co-owner Robb Heineman. “They said he’s the most tested athlete in the history of sports, and he maintains he’s never done it.”