The ESPN article marvels at how Lance Armstrong has made a name for himself. It’s "astounding considering that Armstrong pedals a bicycle for a living."
Cycling "operates away from the limelight," says EPSN, "at least outside of France."
93 percent of Americans say they have little or no interest in cycling, according to a poll conducted earlier this year by Knowledge Networks, a market research firm. Only 2 percent say they are very interested in the sport. Mind you, Americans don’t like Formula 1 racing (3 percent) or horse racing (4 percent), either.
Dave Tice, Knowledge Network’s vice president of client service, told ESPN:
"[Armstrong’s] story is so powerful. But if the cycling world can’t leverage what Lance Armstrong has done, it has probably gone as far as it can go."
And not enough US bike firms piggy-back on the back of Lance. US trade paper Bicycle Retailer spent a recent issue berating US bike suppliers for not spending enough advertising dollars with OLN, the broadcaster that beams the Tour de France into US homes.
1.2 million viewers tuned in per day last year, up from 600 000 who watched Le Tour coverage in 2002. OLN execs predict that daily viewership this year will hit the 2 million mark. Advertising sales will triple, but most of the ads are for mainstream brands and services. Only a precious few bike companies – Trek included – advertise with ESPN.
OLN president Gavin Harvey told ESPN coverage of cycling on his channel has room to grow "before we decide that the sport’s popularity has topped out."
OLN commentator Phil Liggett told EPSN:
"The sport of cycling is never going to become a national sport like baseball or basketball or the same in England where we have soccer and cricket. But it’s still an extremely popular sport and it has its followers and, of course, its followers all go out and buy the best bikes and they have found a new route to health and fitness because of what Lance has done."
But cycling has trouble at bringing in newbies. Mike May, a spokesman for SGMA, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, said:
"Ninety-nine percent of Americans don’t identify with the exact type of cycling that Lance does. They don’t watch him and then get inspired to take a bike and pedal up the Rocky Mountains or the Appalachians. There’s a much better chance that someone who watches Tiger Woods swing a golf club will take up golf, or someone who watches Andy Roddick will take up tennis."
Road bike sales have grown by at least 30 percent over the last three years, Dick Moran, marketing director for Trek Bicycle Co., told ESPN.
"Without Lance, I’m pretty sure the overall cycling industry would have been on a major decline, instead of holding steady as it has."
The EPSN article said "executives with companies that are using Armstrong as a spokesman don’t rely on Armstrong’s performance as much as Nike needs Tiger Woods to win…Nike makes US Postal Service jerseys worn by Armstrong and even makes Armstrong shoes, but most of those items end up in bike specialty shops instead of in front of the mass market."
Bea Perez, Coca-Cola’s vice president of sports marketing, said:
"Whether he wins his sixth Tour de France or retires, and whether he stays on the bike or leaves, our relationship is less about the sport of cycling itself and more about Lance."
Concluding that it’s very definitely ‘Not About the Bike’, the EPSN piece concludes that the Lance effect mainly benefits Lance himself:
"If Armstrong doesn’t win a sixth Tour de France title, he may go down in history as the athlete with the most support from fans that never even watched him compete."