Sitting beside me at that event, a man named Scott Joy nodded fervently as he listened. In 2003, Joy was diagnosed with testicular cancer and found his way to Armstrong’s book. “It told me I would get through this,” he said. “I needed to hear that.”
Joy is now a Livestrong Leader, part of an elite corps of fundraisers and organizers. This year he raised more than $42,000 for Livestrong, but perhaps more important, he’s been fiercely defending Lance and the foundation on Twitter and in the comments sections of online articles. Joy is one of many Livestrong Army members who remain passionate about their cause and their hero.
Nobody can doubt Armstrong’s empathy for cancer patients or his power to inspire. In certain instances, though, he has leveraged this charitable appeal for personal gain. During his comeback, the lines between Cancer Lance and Business Lance became especially blurry.
Although Armstrong had told Vanity Fair he would be racing for free, he actually pocketed appearance fees in the high six figures from the organizers of both the Tour Down Under and the Giro d’Italia. An Australian government official told reporters that the money was a charitable donation, but Lance himself admitted to The New York Times that he was treating it as personal income.
It’s a tricky thing. Armstrong is in demand not just as a cyclist but also as a cancer survivor and inspirational figure—in other words, because of the Livestrong Effect—yet he’s never been shy about monetizing this appeal for personal gain. For example, when he spoke at the inaugural Pelotonia cancer ride in Columbus, Ohio, in August 2009, he charged the startup charity his usual $200,000 speaking fee, including $100,000 worth of NetJets time, courtesy of Pelotonia sponsor and NetJets founder Rich Santulli. Pelotonia executive director Tom Lennox considers it worth the expense: the 2011 edition of the ride pulled in more than $11 million—all of which will be spent on cancer research, by the way.
In a sense, Livestrong and Lance are like conjoined twins, each depending on the other for survival. Separating them—or even figuring out where one ends and the other begins—is no small task. The foundation is a major reason why sponsors are attracted to Armstrong; as his agent Bill Stapleton put it in 2001, his survivor story “broadened and deepened the brand … and then everybody wanted him.” But the reverse is also true: Without Lance, Livestrong would be just another cancer charity scrapping for funds.
Nike is the best example of this symbiotic relationship: Armstrong’s longtime sponsor produces a complete line of Livestrong apparel, from shorts and backpacks to running shoes and T-shirts, all of which it pays Armstrong to wear. Under a five-year deal negotiated in early 2010—before the Landis allegations broke—Nike agreed to pay Livestrong a minimum of $7.5 million per year from its merchandise profits.
Nike’s commitment goes well beyond selling merchandise and sponsorship to producing ads that promote Livestrong, Armstrong, and the Nike brand all at once. In one particularly memorable spot from 2009, Armstrong verbally took on his critics. “They say I’m arrogant… a doper… washed up…a fraud,” he said over scenes of himself on his bike intercut with shots of cancer patients getting chemo treatments, crawling out of bed, and unsteadily lifting weights. “I’m not back on my bike for them.”