Armstrong vs. USADA. My PR campaign is bigger than your PR campaign.

The Boss of Public Perception.

In the long, tangled, exhausting and confusing Armstrong case, we’ve come to a few observations and this is one of them: PR matters more than legal judgement.

This has never been more clear in the Armstrong-USADA war of the worlds than right now. Armstrong lost his jurisdiction gambit and then declined to contest the USADA charges so the government agency plans to strip him of his seven tour titles. Only that has little to do with the final judgement.

This is where the PR machines crank up because most people aren’t hardcore cycling fans well-versed in the Armstrong case, past testimony and evidence. Pro cycling fans make up a small minority compared to the general population that’s just weary of the mess, confused by the yelling and open to being swayed one way or another.

The PR strategy matters more than the legal decision because that’s what will ultimately determine whether the Armstrong legend endures — greatest endurance athlete of our time, who crawled off his knees in the chemo room, re-mounted his bike and won seven Tour de Frances.

On this measure, the Armstrong PR machine kicks the USADA PR machine’s rear-end every single day. This is where money talks and reframes the arguments and alters the perceptions.

In the week since Armstrong said “enough is enough,” his PR people are doing way more than enough. In our opinion, they have successfully convinced the general populace of several things that aren’t true.

They have people believing the “witch hunt” story, that USADA doesn’t in fact have jurisdiction and is over-stepping its boundaries, that this is a 17 year old case way past any sane statue of limitations. His people have also turned up the guitar amp to number 11 and are playing “The Man is a Cancer Saint” at ear-splitting volume. Read what’s in the news and the conclusion is undeniable: it’s working.

In fact, sports columnists around the country with almost no knowledge of the case specifics are now feeding the confusion and bolstering the Armstrong version of events. Witness the astonishingly clueless piece by Rick Reilly in ESPN and the coherent and damning rebuttal from Bicycling Magazine’s Joe Lindsey. Like your water even muddier — read this bone-head piece in the LA Times. Even Armstrong booster TV cycling announcer Phil Liggett — who fancies himself a staunch anti-doping advocate — has come out with the Evil USADA narrative.

This is essentially a political campaign in the sense that the candidate with the biggest war chest almost always wins. It doesn’t take much to imagine the difference in financial resources between a government agency and Armstrong. More than a few critics noted that Armstrong could essentially bankrupt USADA and wipe out their entire operating budget with legal maneuvering and tactics designed to drag the case on for years.

Right now, the Boss is once again taking care of business. USADA won in the courtroom but for the niche world outside pro cycling, that doesn’t mean as much as public perception. Armstrong is killing USADA on the PR side.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA is clearly a sharp guy who knows his foe well. But we’re guessing he miscalculated the force and effectiveness of the Armstrong PR campaign. He beat Lance’s lawyers but is losing to the slick guys in the spin business.

Twisted Spoke expects a reaction from USADA in the coming weeks. They can’t hope to win against the well-coordinated and funded messaging coming out of Austin.

All they have is rider testimony and we expect some “strategic” leaks of that evidence in the near future. That won’t do much to alter the story but we’re a long way from final resolution. The title of Daniel Coyle’s book Armstrong’s War needs a follow-up that makes it Armstrong’s PR War.

In the meantime, it’s another chapeau for Juan Pelota, King of the Alps and Pyrenees and Adjusted Public Opinion.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.dickinson1 Keith Dickinson

    I would tend to disagree that the Arrmstrong forces lost to Tygart in court. Sparks felt that court was not the right platform in which to settle the dispute. Armstrong was denied due process whether guilty or innocent. A govt. agency funded by grants without accountability appears to be a juggernaut best suited to make judgements that best make it appear to be effective.

    • Symo

      Shut it fan boy. He didn’t contest because USADA had evidence. He doesn’t. Cheat

      • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

        Symo, you need to read my other posts on the subject. I am not in the fan boy camp. Doping aside, I still find Armstrong to be an amazing and inspirational guy in many ways. But there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he doped and I’ve been sure on that point for years. He cheated and should be prosecuted and USADA is doing an admirable job. Matt

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Keith, I have to disagree. Sparks mostly commented on what he thought was the poor coordination and bad relationships between the UCI, USA Cycling and USADA — and I agree with him 100% on that score — but his ruling on who had jurisdiction was clear. BEst, Matt

  • Jim

    Whats not working in the USADA’s favour in terms of combatting Armstrong’s war in the court of public opinion, is that they have to hold so much back pending the Bruyneel etc arbitration hearing. That gives Armstrong a good while longer to have the PR field to himself. Deliberate ploy cooked up between Armstrong and Bruyneel to buy time for this in the event that Armstrong lost his battle to try to stop USADA? It would look more than possible.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Jim, you raise an intriguing point I hadn’t thought of — because I did wonder why Bruyneel was opting for arbitration when Armstrong didn’t. SO yes, I think your insight is right on. I’d always assumed that Bruyneel would change his mind but you’ve made the real reason clear. They work together so there had to be a strategic reason. Keep the insights coming. Best, Matt

  • Dan

    The interesting thing about USADA, is that they don’t really need to care about PR and that is the way it should be. With every other sport, when an an athlete tests positive it’s the league vs. the athlete. (NFL vs. the athlete, MLB vs. that Athlete, NBA vs. the Athlete.) Why is it not the USOC or USA Cycling vs. the Athlete.? In the U.S. Olympic movement, USADA was created to specifically act as an independent entity, because they rightfully predicted, that at some point in time, there was going to be a famous, popular athlete, and there would be tremendous pressure not to move forward with a case. They created USADA so that that organization could put PR aside. To make sure, what was fair and right was always done, and not what was in the best interest of PR. If PR was USADA’s main objective they would have ignored the evidence and not moved forward with a case.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Dan, thanks for the good points. I think USADA and Tygart have done an impressive and professional job with the Armstrong investigation. I know they’re not a PR machine and shouldn’t have to be. But when you’re up against the Boss, you have to be ready and have all your forces on red alert. Matt