- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Several of Lance Armstrong’s once faithful and eager sponsors began pedaling away Wednesday, after months of loyally sticking by the embattled cyclist.

Nike Inc. was the first to terminate an endorsement deal with America’s most famous cyclist, but it was followed in quick succession by RadioShack Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., and Honey Stinger.

However, several of Mr. Armstrong’s sponsors said they will continue supporting Livestrong, the cancer-fighting charity he founded, after he stepped down as chairman the same day.

Nike, the iconic sports gear manufacturer, decided to part ways with Mr. Armstrong after “insurmountable evidence” that he participated in a doping scheme and “misled” the Beaverton, Ore., company for more than a decade.

Last week, the United States Anti-Doping Agency released an extensive report about Mr. Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

“Due to seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the company said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in any manner.”

Shortly thereafter, RadioShack, ended its endorsement deal with Mr. Armstrong that dates back to July 2009. The electronics retailer had been taking a wait-and-see approach. “RadioShack has no current obligations with Lance Armstrong,” the company said in a statement.

Honey Stinger, a Colorado company that makes honey-based energy foods, is cutting ties with Mr. Armstrong, even though he is part of the ownership team.

“We are in the process of removing Lance Armstrong’s image and endorsement from our product packaging,” the company said in a statement. “While this presents short term challenges, we look forward to growing our brand and offering our customers the best products possible.”

Anheuser-Busch, which has an endorsement deal with Mr. Armstrong for its Michelob Ultra beer, said it plans to stop sponsoring the cyclist after the contract expires at the end of the year.

Mr. Armstrong said he is stepping down as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, his cancer-fighting charity, so as not to be a distraction for the organization.

“I am deeply grateful to the people of the foundation who have done such hard and excellent work over the last 15 years, building tangible and effective ways to improve the lives of cancer survivors,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Armstrong’s departure paves the way for Nike, Anheuser-Busch and other sponsors to continue supporting Livestrong, an Armstrong brand that raises money for his charity, even as they terminate their endorsement deals with him. Nike donates a portion of the sales from its Livestrong products to the foundation.

In a statement on the Livestrong website, Mr. Armstrong said he was stepping down to “spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career.”

Even before the sponsors abandoned him Wednesday, Mr. Armstrong’s stock had slipped. According to Sports Illustrated’s Fortunate 50 listing of the highest-paid athletes, Mr. Armstrong made $17.5 million in endorsements in 2005. But he hasn’t cracked that list since then, largely because he lost much of his sponsorship money after he announced his first retirement seven years ago.

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