Lance Armstrong to keep Nike endorsement
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Nike is sticking with Lance Armstrong, even as the embattled cycling champ is at risk of losing of his unprecedented seven Tour de France titles Thursday due to doping allegations.
The US Anti-Doping Agency banned Armstrong for life from competition and said it would move to have Armstrong stripped of his Tour titles after Armstrong announced he would drop his challenge to the agency's doping charges. The International Cycling Union is now considering USADA's request that he be stripped of his titles.
But even as he dropped his appeal, Armstrong continued to maintain his innocence.
"If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA's process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and -- once and for all -- put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair," he said in a statement on his Web site Thursday.
That continued claim of innocence was enough for him to retain his deal with athletic clothing and equipment maker Nike -- his most significant endorsement.
"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors," said the company's statement.
Armstrong, with his personal story of beating cancer to compete and his work raising hundreds of millions of dollars to help cancer research, has been an attractive spokesman for years, even as he's been dogged by allegations of using performance enhancing drugs. He made about $17.5 million in endorsements in 2005, the last year his earnings were tracked by Sports Illustrated's Fortunate 50 list of the top paid active athletes. That was enough to be No. 8 in endorsement dollars that year.
But since his retirement from the sport most of his endorsements have faded away. He first announced his retirement in 2005, after wining his seventh straight Tour de France title. He returned to competitive cycling in the fall of 2008 but did not win his final two tours in 2009 and 2010. He retired again in early 2011.
Nike does not have any current commercials with Armstrong and won't comment on future plans. Source Creative, which tracks television commercials, does not show any spots that Armstrong has appeared in since 2010, when he made commercials for Nike, Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra beer, the Nissan Leaf and Radio Shack. None of those advertisers had any immediate response Friday to questions about their deals with Armstrong.
Nike has stuck with other embattled athletes, including golfer Tiger Woods, who lost his other big-dollar endorsement deals after he was hit by a sex scandal. Nike is still paying Woods an estimated $35 million a year.