Earlier this week, I sat down with seven-time Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong. Here's a transcript of our conversation.
Darren: When Nike came up with the idea to do "Livestrong" bands to raise money for cancer through your charity, the Lance Armstong Foundation, what did you think?
Lance: When they first came to us with the idea of five million, I thought they were nuts. I thought we literally would have 4.9 million yellow wristbands sitting around with nothing to do. It obvious was great for us. It created not only a ton of fundraising, but it created a story and it enabled us to share the story of livestrong to the rest of the world.
Darren: And 70 million people bought them. Who were these people? Why did they want to say "Livestrong?"
Lance: Obviously to us Livestrong is a cancer story and a cancer mission, but I think to a lot of people it’s a lot of other things. Somebody that wants to run a marathon for the first time, somebody that wants to drop 20 or somebody that wants to quit smoking or somebody that wants to be a better parent or be better person in their community. It’s a lot of things to a lot of different people. And I say that because we get those stories either through the mail or email or people on the street who say “Man, Livestrong changed my life." And not that we set out to do that everyday, but people say it. It’s amazing.
Darren: Nike announced this week that they are changing your brand, which used to be known as 10/2 to Livestrong and that they will donate 100 percent of the profits to your foundation. How do you feel about that?
Lance: It's truly one of kind. The first time we’ve ever seen anything like that in terms of a company getting behind something. Listen, I can't say enough good things about them. Not only did they give us the yellow band, which enabled us to tell the story to the rest of the world, but to then launch this line and donate 100% of the proceeds is unheard of in corporate America. Clearly a company that has a heart, has a soul and cares about the cause.
Darren: How much will you put the Livestrong brand on?
Lance: There’s definitely a limit. And I think we have to be protective of the brand, protective of the image, of Livestrong. I think there are partnerships out here that make sense, obviously this one makes sense on many different level. I was a Nike athlete, still am a Nike athlete, they’ve been a part of the story from the beginning. There are other companies I think that touch the people more than a lot of other brands or outlets. You could look at an Apple or Starbucks, places like that that really have access to people. It’s one thing to raise money and to raise funds for the fight against cancer, but it’s another thing to build an army of people that care about it, want to talk about it and want to vote that way and want to share their story and want to be known as cancer survivors and want to have a place to go.
Darren: You've raised a lot of money. How would you evaluate your fight against cancer?
Lance: We have made progress, which I think is the headline. In my opinion we have not made enough progress. We have been lucky to be in a unique position, almost as a small boutique like charity to have raised $220 million dollars. That’s is a lot of over money over 10 years, eleven years. As a foundation it's not enough. We need the federal government to invest billions of dollars. If we’re spending $5 billion a year at the National Cancer Institute, I can argue we should spend $20 billion.
Darren: You've done so much for the fight against cancer, but how about cycling? According to the National Sports Goods Association, bicycle sales have been flat throughout your Tour De France run and cycling participation is down to 35.6 million, below fishing (40.6 million), bowling (44.8 million) and camping (48.6 million). Why do you think this is the case?
Lance: I would have thought that participation in cycling would be up and that the industry overall would be up. We only know--and perhaps its a selfish thing to know--how the people we work with are doing. You can look at a company like Trek which in 1999 was a $200 million dollar company and is now a nearly a $700 million dollar company.
Darren: You are no longer endorsing Dasani water, but I hear you have a new drink out there. Tell me about FRS (Free Radical Scavenger) energy drink.
Lance: We’ve seen so much growth and so many new products in the energy drink market. But most of them aren’t very healthy. This drink FRS is actually a healthy alternative to other high octane, high sugar, high caffeine sports drinks or energy drinks. I think as an athlete, as a parent, I like to see an option out there like that.