UPDATE 1: After writing this post, I re-read the ESPN piece and noticed the following quote from Lance:
“It could be a combination of people that have a shared interest in Livestrong and want to see Livestrong promoted around the world and believe in what we’re doing.”
It’s a vague, confusing quote, but could mean that instead of using LAF funds, he’s actually considering gathering together an independent group — not leveraging LAF — for the funds. If that’s the case (hard to tell because of other statements in the article, which he did not correct in his Tweet pointing to that article and rejecting only the final line of that piece), then this entire post is null and void, and I will promise to restrict my posts to stuff I know something about. Which, let’s face it, would definitely mean fewer and shorter posts.
UPDATE 2: Early this morning, the ESPN article was updated with the following:
“While as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Lance Armstrong Foundation would not be able to fund the day-to-day operational expenses of a for-profit endeavor,” Katherine McLane, communications director for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “We would certainly look for ways to develop a dynamic partnership to support the cancer mission and cancer survivors.”
This answers my concerns; I’m no longer worried that the money we raised could go toward a cycling team bailout instead of toward fighting cancer. Which means I wrote this letter (instead of the jokey piece I had in mind) and lost most of a night’s sleep (yes, really: I could hardly sleep at all last night because of this) over nothing.
Which is a huge relief.
I’m leaving the post up, however, because I still think one of the points remains valid. Specifically, if the cycling team is branded “LiveStrong,” they need to be very, very careful of appearances; most people won’t realize there’s a difference between the charity and the cycling team.
FINAL UPDATE: I just got the following email message from Katherine McLane, Communications Director at LAF:
Hey there! Read your posts this AM and wanted to let you know that the confusion is a result of a reporter drawing his own conclusions and running with them. At no point did Lance suggest pulling out the LAF checkbook! Clearly he was talking about finding sponsors and raising funds to keep the team afloat. Like I explained to the AP, we’re a non-profit organization and OF COURSE we’d love a world-class cycling team spreading the cancer message. We, quite literally, can’t buy that kind of exposure – because we’re a 501(c)(3)! Would we look for other ways to partner with them and support them? Absolutely!
My final thoughts:
- It’s very cool of the people at LAF to reach out and respond like this. Everyone I’ve talked with there has been incredibly helpful, and it’s clear they’re dedicated to this fight.
- This post was still worth writing, but I’m glad it was unnecessary in this case.
- I’m still totally on board for helping LAF raise money to fight cancer.
- I need a nap.
I just finished reading “Astana facing money trouble” over on ESPN. The story has two main points. One of them is that Astana has not been paying the team or staff lately. Which definitely sucks. A lot.
The other point in the article is that you’re considering the option of turning the team into Team LiveStrong for the rest of the season, funding it — if I understand correctly — out of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Before you do that, Lance, there are a few things I want you to consider.
Do Not Do This Just Because You Can
But that ESPN article has got me worried.
In it, you said:
“I’ve spent every day of the year with my soigneur [massage assistant] Richard, a Polish guy. He’s got a wife and two young kids at home and doesn’t get a paycheck,” Armstrong said. “I can pay his check, which will probably happen, but there’s 30 other staff in the same position and is that frustrating? Yeah. Very. This is not fair.”
Reading this, it sounds like one of your motivations for using LAF funds for this team is because you don’t like the thought of team staff going without paychecks.
This will sound callous, but that’s not a good enough reason. If the LiveStrong cycling team is about helping friends pay the bills, well, I’ve got friends who are hurting financially too, and I’d rather help them than your masseuse.
When I donate my money and time — and ask hundreds of other people to donate their money and time — it is because I have made a specific ethical decision: It’s more important to me to spend my money and time on fighting cancer than anything else. I have decided to use my money and time — both in short supply right now, thanks — to fight cancer. To save lives.
I have not decided to use my money or time to save your friends’ jobs.
It may sound like I am now condemning the Team LiveStrong concept here, but I am not. I’m for it, provided that the team mission is crystal-clear and measurable. And that mission must be the exact same one I’ve already committed to: fight cancer, help those who are fighting it themselves, and raise awareness of cancer detection and treatment options throughout the world.
If, before you sign the dotted line, you and the people at LAF — people I’ve come to admire a lot — put your heads together and approach the problem from the perspective of “Will this help LAF move our current mission forward?” as opposed to “Will this solve a financial crisis for a cycling team?” and you show us — the people who are working hard to make sure LAF has the money it needs to do its work — how a pro cycling team is a good use of our money (hint: having racers wear the jerseys as they otherwise conduct their lives as usual is nowhere near enough), I will continue to support you as strongly as I am right now.
But the case has to be strong, clear, and public.
Do the Math
I can think of only two reasons an organization would sponsor a cycling team: marketing and vanity. It seems possible — even likely — that a LiveStrong cycling team could be great marketing for LAF. It could raise awareness not just for discovering and fighting cancer, but even for raising additional money toward the LAF mission, especially outside the U.S., where cycling awareness is strong, but where LAF awareness and fundraising are comparably weak.
Or, on the other hand, it could be a complete money pit.
The truth is, it’s sometimes initially hard to tell which way a marketing initiative will go.
By the end of a half season, however, you should have good data on whether a LiveStrong cycling team is paying off. If you now decide it’s worth the risk (and can show why you think so), then find out later you were wrong, I will not be upset. You’ve got to take chances sometimes, and sometimes they don’t work out. However, if it’s clear that a cycling team is not at least paying for itself by bringing in increased donations or by accomplishing other LAF objectives more cost-effectively than the money would if used in another way, you’ve got to cut it loose.
I won’t participate in the funding of a multi-year experiment.
Remember and Respect Our Efforts
Here’s something to keep in mind as you consider team expenses: one of the people raising funds for you is my wife, Susan Nelson. She is living with metastatic breast cancer, spread all throughout her body and brain. Her time is precious, and she has spent hundreds of hours (and hundreds of dollars) working to raise close to $9000 for your foundation, making beautiful jewelry and giving it to those who donate.
She has chosen to spend her time this way because she cares deeply about fighting cancer.
If, when she watches the Tour de France this year, she sees an extravagant team bus or hears of lavish parties being thrown by the team, how do you think she will feel about the way she chose to spend her time?
Similarly, I have asked my readers, over and over, to donate generously. And I have asked companies to donate expensive products, in spite of the crummy economy. And they have, because they want to do the right thing, and they trusted that I have chosen a good, effective partner in fighting cancer.
Please, do not prove me wrong.
Lance, you and your organization have earned gratitude and respect from my readers and me for what you have done in the fight against cancer. If a pro cycling team is really the best — not just a convenient — use of that money toward fighting and eliminating cancer, I’ll get behind you.
Just make sure you are doing this to further the mission, and not just because it’s a handy band-aid.
Elden “Fatty” Nelson