The Monetary Gap – One Reason for the Lance Armstrong Affair

LA photo from TVYesterday much of the world had to watch Oprah to see Lance Armstrong confess his doping for the first time.  Even Lance agrees that should have happened long ago. 

One of the most troubling elements of all of this is that drug testing began in the Olympics in 1968 more than 44 years ago and yet the system is still unable to distinguish who is a clean athlete.  Every decade we are faced with a groundbreaking scandal, and multiple times a year we are faced with an ordinary scandal resulting from doping in sport.  Just last week we finished a baseball hall of fame vote where a whole generation of players got snubbed largely because of doping, and yet it seemed ordinary. 

Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens… the list is long and spans all sports and generations when it comes to sport heroes and champions who have fallen, some even sacrificing their lives like Tommy Simpson, from using performance-enhancing drugs.  The question facing us all is why and what should we do about it, in much the same way we ask why and what to do about gun violence after witnessing the Newtown disaster. 

Now some may say hold on, you are way out of line.  There is no way to compare innocent children dying in a horrifying massacre to the performance-enhancing drug problem.  While we would agree with that in large part, we also point out that children are tragically affected by performance-enhancing drugs, figuring they have to use them to compete.  Sadly, some of our children even sacrifice their lives in pursuit of steroids and other drugs.  Just ask the Hooton’s, or the Garibaldi’s, or the Marrero’s or the other parents that have paid the ultimate price in losing a child to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. 

We consider the annual budget of the World Anti-Doping Agency at ~$28 million annually and the United States Anti-Doping Agency at $14 million.  We assume UK Sport and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority are equivalent to USADA for another $28 million.  The NFL spent $10 million in 2011.  We will put MLB at $10 million as well although their updated new program likely will come with additional cost.  The sport of cycling was estimated to spend $4.7 million and tennis (ITF) $1.3 million per year in 2011 for another $6 million.  If we assume there are 150 other countries and sporting bodies spending an average of $1-2 million annually on anti-doping, that adds another $150-300 million.  All said we estimate the total annual anti-doping budget worldwide to be $246-396 million, which compares to the budget of a small pharmaceutical company – and our estimate is probably on the high side. 

At the same time, you consider that Lance Armstrong made an estimated $17.5 million in endorsements alone in 2005.  Alex Rodriguez, another previous doper, makes $29 million per year in salary alone.  Annual budgets for professional cycling teams range from several million up to $25 million for a team like Sky.  The median team payroll in Major League Baseball is around $90 million while the total payroll for the league is a staggering $2.94 billion.  The total payroll in the NFL is even higher at almost $3.4 billion.  Finally consider the $3.2 billion in endorsement contracts for Nike athletes alone over the next 5 years.  All told, professional and Olympic athletes and teams have easily more than $10 billion in annual resources. 

When Lance Armstrong’s endorsements plus A-Rod’s salary alone totals more than $46.5 million, eclipsing the WADA and USADA annual budgets by $4.5 million.  When the drug-testing programs for MLB and NFL represent 0.3% of annual player salaries.  When the estimated annual amount spent worldwide on anti-doping testing, legal matters and research at ~$246-396 million represents 2-4% of the more than $10 billion in resources available to athletes perhaps we begin to see the scope of the problem.  Those who want to dope can afford to beat the system; at present the monetary gap is simply too great for the system to overcome. 

Now we consider the response.  There have already been countless hours of media content alone dedicated to Lance Armstrong.  We tried to estimate the dollars spent and considered 500 media outlets spending an average of $10,000 each on the coverage.  That would be $5 million alone spent covering the issue worldwide, by the end of this whole affair it is likely to be 10 or 50 times that amount, and our estimate is likely conservative. 

Those of us in the anti-doping community don’t expect $6 billion to be dropped off anytime soon, but it would be nice to see the resources available to anti-doping double or triple at least.  If we can’t afford to give anti-doping a fighting chance by providing the movement with the financial resources needed to effectuate change, then we are part of the problem and we can settle in for a continuing parade of scandals. 

It is up to sport and those that care about it to ensure adequate resources are available to establish and maintain a reality of clean competition.  The athletes, sport, and the next generations of athletes and sports fans deserve a drug testing system that can deliver to the world clean sporting champions, ones we can believe in and trust.  With an outmatched system that can’t expose dirty athletes, even athletes who want to compete clean feel they have to dope to win, and we simply can’t accept that reality.  The risks are too great to sport and the individuals who dedicate their lives to it. 

But it is not just about the money, it is about finding real solutions that can improve the drug-testing system and approach in place today, with or without more resources.  Stay tuned as our dinner conversations have been generating some interesting ideas….

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