Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley eyewear company will become a partner of the Tour de France bicycle race next year after ending a long relationship with Lance Armstrong.
Chief Executive Officer Colin Baden said in an interview in London yesterday that Oakley did not receive a discount because of the doping scandal centering around Armstrong, who was stripped of his Tour titles for 1999-2005.
Oakley’s move comes at a time when sponsors such as the Netherlands’ biggest mortgage lender, Rabobank Groep, are shunning cycling because of the doping scandal.
“I would like to see that the sport be what it once was,” Baden said, without giving details of the sponsorship deal. “It’s unfortunate what we’ve all experienced. It would be really nice to get back to the place where it’s admired, respected and understood.”
Oakley had been working on the sponsorship deal for 12 months. Baden said the decision to partner the Tour for the first time deepens the company’s relationship with a sport where he says the Oakley brand “was discovered.”
Oakley signed its first cycling endorsement with Greg LeMond, the American who won three Tour de France crowns in 1986 to 1990. Since then, it has endorsed top riders including 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins of Britain.
The Foothill Ranch, California-based company was one of Armstrong’s earliest sponsors. Its relationship with the 41- year-old stretches back to before he recovered from testicular cancer to win what was a record seven straight Tour titles. It was the last major sponsor to ditch Armstrong.
Baden said Oakley paid Armstrong’s medical bills during cancer treatment and has raised $10 million for the Livestrong Foundation cancer charity through royalty payments on some of its products in the past five years.
Armstrong started Livestrong, which was originally known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, in 1997. He stepped down as chairman in October and was dropped by sponsors including Nike Inc. (NKE:US), RadioShack Corp. (RSH:US) and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Oct. 10 released a 202-page summary of its investigation of Armstrong that said his cycling career was “fueled from start to finish by doping.”
Oakley, as well as other sponsors such as Nike, will continue to support Livestrong.
“My wife’s a cancer survivor,” Baden said. “My belief and hope is that the foundation can continue its mission. Only time will tell, but it’s something we as a brand will still stand behind and we believe strongly that fighting cancer is a worthy cause.”
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