Lance Armstrong’s winning of the Tour de France is a story about the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good is Armstrong winning his fifth consecutive Tour de France. Simply to compete in cycling’s signature event after cheating death and surviving cancer is an astonishing accomplishment. Since recovering from cancer, Armstrong has won the tour five straight times. He will attempt to capture a sixth title next year.
The bad is the constant sniping by the French over Armstrong’s accomplishments. Since he won his first Tour de France, his French critics (along with other Euros) have claimed that Armstrong is gaining an unfair advantage through performance enhancing drugs.
While some cynics declare that the Tour de France doesn’t “officially” begin until the first rider fails a drug test, Armstrong has never been one of those riders.
The ugly is the sponsorship of Armstrong’s team by the United States Postal Service. While it is a reality that racing’s premier event requires millions in sponsorship dollars, it’s always been peculiar that the U.S. Postal Service spends millions on the Tour de France while losing millions at home and continuously raising the costs of postage.
The post office monopoly is a semi-autonomous government agency which is not prevented from signing such a sponsorship deal, but should the USPS throw more than $40 million into international cycling when the cost of a first class stamp has risen 3 cents the past three years?
Postal officials have claimed in the past that the cycling sponsorship brings in money for the post office, but the Financial Times recently cited an Inspector General’s report that claimed “[the] postal service had failed to track revenues from sponsorships and was therefore unable to measure return on investment; lacked clearly defined objectives for the deals; and mismanaged the distribution of tickets and invitations.”
It takes a lot of guts to criticize the sponsorship deal that’s behind one of the most touching sports success stories of all time, but taxpayer watchdog groups are beginning to take notice. Groups such as Postal Watch and Citizens Against Government Waste want the USPS to get out of sports sponsorships.
Corporate sponsors are a necessity in modern sports, but this sponsor relies too much on the American taxpayer to be throwing so much money at a single sport. Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond reached the top under sponsorship from telecommunication’s giant Motorola. There’s no shortage of similar sponsors today.
If Lance Armstrong were to stand up today and say his team has no sponsor, representatives from corporate America would be knocking down his door to fill the void. Armstrong is going for a sixth Tour de France title next summer and there isn’t a company in the world that would not want to be a part of that.