SBD/January 16, 2013/Facilities

Livestrong's Naming-Rights Deal With Sporting K.C. Ending After Just Two Years

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Sporting K.C. intends to rename the stadium "Sporting Park" after Livestrong deal ends
The Livestrong Foundation and MLS Sporting K.C. said that the naming-rights deal for Livestrong Sporting Park is “set to end" less than two years into a six-year agreement, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. Livestrong Foundation officials “informed the team this week that the club had only paid $250,000 of the $1 million that it owed the foundation in 2012.” Sources said that the communication “noted that failure to make the foundation whole within two weeks would result in the charity severing the deal.” A team official “refutes the club owes any money, but says the deal to make the $200 million stadium Livestrong Sporting Park in March 2011 didn't live up to its expectations, either.” Rovell noted Sporting K.C. when the deal was forged said that it “would donate $7.5 million to the foundation in exchange for connecting to one of the sporting world's most powerful charities.” Sporting K.C. CEO Robb Heineman said that the team has “decided to rename the field ... Sporting Park.” Livestrong CFO Greg Lee said that, as of yesterday evening, “no one on his team had received any notice of the team's desire to end the deal” (ESPN.com, 1/15). Heineman said the two sides had been engaged in talks to “redefine expectations” for the agreement. But he added that he “felt blindsided by Livestrong’s accusation.” Heineman said, “I didn’t think that’s how they would go about treating a partner. And I didn’t necessarily think our relationship was something to be debated on ESPN or in the media, quite frankly. It’s something we were working on in good faith, and it was to both our mutual benefit to try to do something to continue to raise money for the foundation. They obviously took a different tack, and it was a surprising one to us.” He added, “It seems like there was the best of intentions to make this thing really go, so to wind up the way that it is has is sad. I don’t think any of us thought this would happen” (K.C. STAR, 1/16).

POINTING FINGERS: In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes the franchise now “must deal with real off-the-field defeat,” as team execs have been “essentially perfect in the decisions that matter until this one.” Their “big bet on Lance Armstrong is now officially blown to bits, and for an added kick to the crotch, it’s Armstrong’s old Livestrong foundation that hit the eject button.” Sporting’s leaders “didn’t go into this partnership blind,” as they “knew Armstrong was under suspicion but hoped Livestrong’s brand was strong enough to continue its mission of fighting cancer without him.” Mellinger: “As it turns out, Sporting looks the fool. No matter how much they try to separate Armstrong’s disgrace from Livestrong’s nobility, the liar and the charity he started are like Siamese twins. ... With hindsight, Sporting’s mistakes were the product of gullibility and idealism run amok.” They were “star-struck by Armstrong’s fame and hungry for the potential of the partnership, which not only clouded their thinking in the beginning but pushed them to hang on for too long” (K.C. STAR, 1/16).

ON THE DOWN LOW: In a special to the N.Y. TIMES, Claudio Gatti notes as Armstrong begins confessing to doping during his career, some critics “have seized on another possible dynamic at play throughout sports: companies that endorse athletes might prefer to stand by quietly if they know an athlete is doping, appreciating the benefits of his success rather than moving to expose their pitchman.” Former cyclist Jörg Jaksche said, “For the sponsors, this system has no downside. If nobody is caught doping, they gain all the commercial benefits of the visibility generated by great performances. If somebody is caught, they have a swift exit strategy” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).

LATE-NIGHT LAUGHS: Armstrong's reported admission to Oprah Winfrey that he doped was fodder for the late-night talk show hosts last night. NBC's Jay Leno, ABC's Jimmy Fallon and CBS' David Letterman, as well as Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, all commented on the controversy.
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