Lance Armstrong’s legacy as a seven-time Tour de France winner went up in smoke last week. So might have the investments of a cadre of collectors who specialize in autographs and other sports memorabilia like signed jerseys and photos. Experts estimate that in light of the Armstrong doping scandal, the value of memorabilia featuring the iconic cyclist and cancer survivor could be cut in half.
“I wouldn’t want to be holding a lot of Lance Armstrong memorabilia with the intent to sell it. I think it would be a pretty difficult sell,” says Rich Miller, who edits the blog SportsCollectorsDaily.com. “He’s not a Derek Jeter, but before all this hit, you would compare him almost to a really successful Olympic athlete.”
Now, however, the only Olympians one is likely to compare Armstrong to would be Ben Johnson or Marion Jones, both runners who were disqualified for doping and had their gold medals and other winnings stripped.
Long-time sponsor Nike announced that it had dropped Armstrong on Wednesday, the same day he announced he was stepping down as chairman of his eponymous foundation. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner,” the company said in a statement, according to the AP.
For collectors, this is likely to hurt. Although signed Armstrong jerseys, hats, and magazine covers probably won’t become totally worthless, “I would guess that higher end items could lose as much as 50%,” Miller says.
Others aren’t so sure how the public will react, and to what degree Armstrong memorabilia will be affected value-wise. “In a way, it’s the ‘Whatever Syndrome.’” Stan Teitelbaum, author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side, told the Dallas Morning News. “There used to be a strong sense of indignation at things like this. How could my hero be this way? But when we the people, we the public, get disillusioned so many times, we shrug our shoulders and we just say, ‘Whatever.’”
And yet any kind of scandal can hurt the value of an athlete’s memorabilia. Steven Bloedow, owner of Collect Auctions, says that Tiger Woods collectibles aren’t worth what they used to be, which he blames both on Woods’ performance in recent years as well as his very public marital meltdown. But cheating by using performance-enhancing substances is worse than a recreational drug or sex scandal in fans’ eyes, Bloedow says, and that affects the price they’re willing to pay for autographs or other mementos.
“The guys like [Barry] Bonds and [Mark] McGwire, everybody knows they were guilty and their values have plummeted because of that,” Bloedow says.
Miller estimates that a baseball card of Barry Bonds is worth about half as much as it would have been without Bonds’ steroid scandal. “The average Sammy Sosa card struggles to sell at any level,” he says. “When people don’t believe the numbers are legitimate, they back off. They don’t want anything to do with it.”
Although cycling is much more popular overseas, Armstrong is synonymous with the sport the world over. His iconic status and high profile have obviously helped to boost the value of his memorabilia over the years. Without the doping scandal, Miller says Armstrong memorabilia probably would have held its value over the years because of his name recognition. “People still talk about Mary Lou Retton,” he says.
Until recently, Armstrong had the benefit of public support due to his highly-publicized fight with cancer and extensive fund-raising efforts. “He has done so much outside of cycling,” Bloedow says.
“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday.
His charity may survive the scandal. “Our donations have increased to nearly double their usual amount since August,” foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane told CNN recently. But for collectors — not to mention sponsors like Nike — Lance just isn’t worth what he used to be anymore.