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Writing and writers

Jan 14, 2011

An open letter to Lance Armstrong...

So I'll take a stab in the commercially-confident-and-very-secret-dark and say you'll be pitching for $AU2.5 million for your visit to South Australia this year. Again, if I'm wrong please feel free to correct me - or get someone from Ranny's office to drop me a line.

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Lance Armstrong leads out the peleton - Tour Down Under, 2009
Lance Armstrong leads out the peleton. Tour Down Under, 2009. Picture Bob Gosford

Dear Lance,

From all of us here in Australia I just want to shout out a big “Thank you” for your pledge to the Queensland Flood Appeal. I can’t see your name on the official list of big-time donors yet but $50,000 will have you somewhere in the middle of a very long list. As I write this the website shows a total of $54,636,576 in pledges and donations.

As you advised in your Tweet of yesterday morning.

“@lancearmstrong Lance Armstrong

Please visit www.qld.gov.au/floods to donate. I’m personally pledging $50,000 to the relief efforts. Please help! Livestrong!”

The Twittersphere and the media have given your gesture biggest mobs of well-deserved coverage. And of course you and Robbie McEwen will raise a whole lot more money on your Twitter ride through the streets of Adelaide tomorrow.

But I don’t think I’m alone in reckoning you can do better – maybe as much as $1,950,000 better.

That’s a pretty big call but I think you’d be up for it. I know you Texans reckon that your home state – at around 270,ooo square miles – is pretty big – but Queensland is huge.

Hell yes – at 690,000 square miles it is nearly two and a half times bigger than your Lone Star home state.

The greater Brisbane metro area has a population of about 2 million, so on my calculations your very welcome donation of $50,000 works out at about two-and-a-half cents per person – which is a very small drop in a very big bucket.

But maybe you might want to round that up a bit – maybe a lot – and get as big as Texas with your contribution. So what about a rounded up figure of $1 a per Brisbanite?

That works out at $2 million, which by my reckoning will be somewhere close to what the South Australian taxpayers will most likely be coughing up for a few days of you schmoozing, “dancing on the pedals” and visiting a few hospital wards during the Tour Down Under, which starts next week.

I’d like to be more precise about the amount of your appearance fee but the South Australian government has been very reluctant to release those details.

I should know – I’ve been asking for them for years.

As I noted in my first piece on the issue of your appearance fees way back in January 2009:

…an anonymous tipster told Crikey in mid-January:

“The SA Government are paying Lance Armstrong USD $1 million to appear at the Pro Tour. USD $500k has been paid up front, with the balance after the race. Think back a few months when it was announced somewhat prematurely that Lance was on his way.”

Neither Rann nor Armstrong have denied the figure of $US1 million ($AU1.52 million). While Crikey was in Adelaide there were strong rumours among the media and others closely connected to the race that the figure was more like $US2 million ($AU3.05 million).

The South Australian government were even caught out telling a fib. But thanks to you, The Boulder Report and The New York Times we found out where the money went.

The Boulder Report at the Bicycling.com website noted:

“…no one’s talking. South Australia Premier Mike Rann refused to discuss any negotiations, and other than saying that any money paid ‘will go to his charity,’ Rann’s spokesman, Lachlan Parker, declined to discuss the matter further with reporters.”

Lachlan Parker’s story that the payment to Armstrong was a donation to charity, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, was soon given the lie by Armstrong himself.

And, as The New York Times reported, you:

…did not specify the amount of his fee but said Saturday that, contrary to what had been reported here last week, he was not donating the fee to his foundation but treating it as income, the same way he has his other speaking and appearance fees since retirement.

“It’s not simply showing up to a bike race and getting paid to race the bike,” he said. “I’m not being paid to race. Is there a fee for other things? Yes, but that’s not any different than what I’ve done for the last three years or four years, actually longer than that.”

But your mate Ranny was determined not to release any details of how much, and by whom, you were paid.

Crikey sent a brief list of questions to Rann and his media minder Lachlan Parker and to SA Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith. We first sent the questions on 3 February, again on 6 February and again yesterday, advising that this story would be published today.

All we got back from Ranny was the following:

Any payments associated with teams or cyclists taking part in the Tour Down Under are commercial in confidence. This has been the case since the inception of the race 11 years ago.

I went through the same tortuous hoops in a couple of times in 2010, again with no response from Ranny or his government.

But others were not so reluctant to discuss why the taxpayers of South Australia should know how much they were giving you and at least one member of the South Australian parliament reckoned that notions of public accountability for the public purse  in Ranny’s South Australia had gone haywire:

“I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t disclose how much they are spending on sportsmen like Lance Armstrong — unless of course they are ashamed of it.”And Opposition sports spokesman Terry Stephens agrees but can see another way around Rann’s reluctance to come clean — he told Crikey that we should go straight to the Texan:

“… let’s remember that it is not Mike Rann personally that is paying Armstrong — it is the people of South Australia. Now that Armstrong has decided that Mike Rann is a terrific Premier I think that he should make his commercial agreements public.”

Over to you Lance.

But in politics, as in cycling, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Late in October 2010 Ranny released the news that you would be back at the 2011 Tour Down Under. As I noted at the time:

Over the years the speculation over how much the Texan has been paid for each visit varies between $1.5 million and $3 million…Two weeks ago in the South Australian Estimates Committee Lower House member David Pisoni…asked Tourism Minister John Rau about apparent discrepancies in the Tourism events budget for 2009-2010.

David Pisoni’s particular focus was on a discrepancy of about $2 million between the budgeted figure for 2009-2010 tourism events and estimated final expenditure. The following exchange is from the South Australian parliament’s Estimates Committee Hansard on October 8 2010:

MR PISONI: I now refer to Budget Paper 4, Volume 4, page 13.2 … Can the minister advise whether the Lance Armstrong fee came out of that amount of money? … There is an estimated result there of $17.050 million.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I see that; so that is the one we are talking about? Your initial question was whether any of that money includes —

MR PISONI: The fee for Lance Armstrong.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that it does.

MR PISONI: How much was that?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am afraid that is not to be disclosed.

MR PISONI: Stay with me here, minister. So, did the budgeted figure $15.055 million for the 2009-10 budget include Lance Armstrong’s fee when the budget was presented?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I am advised that it did not, but again we should not necessarily join the dots.

MR PISONI: So there we have the Lance Armstrong fee at nearly $2 million.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: No, I am not saying anything along those lines.

MR PISONI: Can you then explain the change then between —

The Hon. J.R. RAU: One cannot necessarily deduce that the only explanation for a difference between the budgeted figure and the estimated result can be attributed to Mr Armstrong. I also point out that there are very sound commercial reasons, some of which relate to the government but many of which relate not just to Mr Armstrong but to other people, as to why it is not appropriate for specific details of these individual expenditures to be provided.

At this point I reckon it is a pretty safe bet to assume that in 2009 you got close enough to $AU1.5 million as an appearance fee and that this bumped up to $AU2 million in 2010.

Of course I may be wrong, but it is entirely up to you and Ranny to tell us the true figures if I am.

I also reckon that based on those estimates that you would be pitching for an attendance fee for 2011 at least on par with what you apparently received in 2010.

So I’ll take a stab in the commercially-confident-and-very-secret-dark and say you’ll be pitching for $AU2.5 million for your visit to South Australia this year.

Again, if I’m wrong please feel free to correct me – or get someone from Ranny’s office to drop me a line.

We know that the Lance Armstrong brand has become more than a bit tarnished over the past few years time and that you are less of a ‘star’ than you may have been in the past.

Your income has dropped fairly substantially over the past few years from the $28 million that Forbes Magazine said you had earned in 2005 – when you were up there in the list of Top 10 US sports star earners.

But time and controversy appear to have taken their toll and, according to Sports Illustrated, last year you didn’t even make the Top 50 earners in American sport.

And just today there was the news in Forbes and the Advertising Age that your TV advertisement for the major sponsor of your cycling Team, Radio Shack, came in a close No. 2 behind Tiger Woods as 2010’s “Worst Celebrity TV Ads by Negative Lift (Sink)” of 28 per cent.

So we can understand that you might want to hang on to some of your dosh for the hard times ahead.

But mate, you aren’t on the bones of your arse quite yet. Just last year Forbes Magazine listed you as having a “power ranking” of 65th on their “celebrity earners” for 2009-10, pulling in a cool $US20 million.

So what about it mate? Maybe asking you to cough for a full 10 per cent tithe on your annual earnings is a bit rich.

But what about 10 per cent of your appearance fees at the Tour Down Under over the last three years?

Cheers mate and have a good ride.

Bob Gosford

PS – I would’ve sent this via your Twitter account but for some reason you’ve blocked me: “Could not follow user: You have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user.”

PPS: And I didn’t use the “D” word once…

Robert Gosford —

Robert Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

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31 comments

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31 thoughts on “An open letter to Lance Armstrong…

  1. Elan

    Well, well, well!! All the shock! All the horror!!

    Bad Bobbity! Mean Bobbity!

    Cut the bloody crap!

    Lance Armstrong did indeed not need to donate, and for the record he hasn’t;-we have!

    In the zeal (of most here) to puff up in righteous indignation,- you completely miss the fact that it is the public expression of that donation to create an image of generosity,-when such payment is a wee in a silo, given what this man has been paid very generously by the taxpayer just to show his face here in SA!

    It is offensive to me that this man who flies in in his private jet to grace us with his presence, at a price;-TO US;- publicly dispenses this largesse-PAID FOR BY US!!

    It is offensive to me that we are so tainted by cultural cringe, that we subject many of our own excellent and talented cyclists to the indignity of having to ride in this man’s shadow.

    YES! many cyclists do wax lyrical,-do you really think that you are going to hear from the many cyclists who are not happy about this craven indulgence?? (and I do know that there are a few…quite a few..)

    He came seventh?? last? year. Yet he came away with a lucrative bulging purse,-and the winner….who was that?

    WHY in the hell do we do this? Have we so little faith in our own talent, that we have to import someone-pay them well-have them behave like cycling Royalty?

    Are we so bereft of self confidence that we form some kind of sodding Honour Guard around them.

    What the hell is the matter with you??

    Of course he did not need to donate.
    He did not.
    But he publicised the fact that he did, because he has been elevated to a position of….what?….why?

    Armstrong is good at what he does; others-including Australians;-are better. Mr Armstrong has NOT endeared himself to many international cyclists-because of his perceived superiority, but…..

    come to Australia old son; we will fall at your feet, and defend you to the death.

    Gawd! Is it any wonder he ‘likes’ it here.

    Well done Bob Gosford. You wrote my article.

    ………..well? who is going to be first with the ‘tall poppy’ get out clause?

  2. daveb

    Juffy,

    “Yes, and they would be right to demand that of Bob – because he’s (presumably) an Australian citizen. Mr Armstrong is not. See how this works?”

    So if an Australian goverment gives out a large amount of money to procure a sports person to do something and that sports person is Australian then they should be honour bound to donate that money to charity. If however they are American they should be free to run off with our tax payer money and chuck a couple of coins our way.

    Mr Armstrong donated slightly less than what I live off in a whole year. Surely you aren’t suggesting that he needs $1,950,000 to live do you? If he wants to take money from private corporations to turn up and ride a bicycle and keep all the money then fine. But if he is going to take Australian tax payer dollars, give back 2.5% of what it would take me near 35 years to earn, and run off with the rest back to the United States then he’s the small and mean-spirited one. Mind you they are having some economic problems over there, so perhaps we might be able to chalk this one up as a new South Australian foreign aid program.

    “If the (alleged) $2m that went to Mr Armstrong didn’t go to Mr Armstrong it wouldn’t go to “help rebuild the lives of people [IN QUEENSLAND] who have…(blah blah)…” anyway. It’s called an entertainment budget, or a major events budget, or a tourism events budget.”

    It was budgeted as $15 million, then Lance (Lance!) turned up and suddenly it blew out to $17 million. Even if it wasn’t going to help the people of queensland it would have gone to help the people of South Australia. I can certainly think of a thousand more useful things than having a bike rider turn up to ride a single bike ride.

  3. Bob Gosford

    The Tim Cahill Everton Experience

    I’ve been watching the progress of the auction of the “Tim Cahill Everton Experience” over on E-bay.

    This surely puts a lot of other efforts – including that of Lance Armstrong – to shame.

    Currently the bidding is at $AU340,900.

    And what do you get for that? Plenty!

    Here is what they are saying at the E-bay site:

    “Following the devasating (sic) floods that have affected large parts of Queensland, Tim Cahill has donated a special “money can’t buy experience” for auction tpo raise mooney (sic) for the Queensland Premier’s Disaster Relief Fund.

    The Tim Cahill Everton Experience includes:

    – Two (2) Business Class airfares to the UK from any port in Australia, donated by Emirates Airlines

    – Two (2) seats in Tim’s private box, to watch any Everton home match this season (includes dinner and drinks)

    – an invitation to watch an Everton TC training session and meet the team

    – a Tim Cahill Everton jersey signed by the whole Everton team

    – a pair of signed Tim Cahill boots from the game that the winning bidder watched.
    We invite the football community to help the communities of Queensland to rebuild their lives after the recent devastating floods.

    100% of the proceeds from this auction will go towards the Premier’s Disaster Relief Fund (Ref T11/706)

    Even if you are not successful with a bid you can still donate to the Premier’s Disaster Relief Fund. For more information, please visit http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html

    Donations collected by the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal will be disbursed to the people affected by flooding in Queensland Communities in December 2010 and January 2011.

    Disclaimer: Football Federation Australia is an authorised promoter of this event. This is an event held by Football Federation Australia to raise funds for the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal and is not an official Queensland Government event.

    The successful donor/bidder may request a receipt, but will be required to provide the Queensland Government with a list detailing the donor’s name, address and donation amount. The Queensland Government will then send a receipt directly to the donor.”

    Come on Lance – and the rest – you must be able to come up with something to match – I’ve sure there are plenty of lance Armstrong fan-boys and fat-blokes-in-lycra-with-equally-fat-wallets out there who would cough up big-time for a few hours of your time…

    Over to you Lance…

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