Just 22 months after Sporting Kansas City gave the naming rights to their new $200 million stadium to Livestrong over a six-year period for free and promised millions in donations to fight cancer, the deal has come to a premature end with both sides claiming they were the ones to do the terminating. The result is Livestrong Sporting Park being renamed Sporting Park effective immediately.
Though this announcement comes in the midst of Livestrong founder Lance Armstrong reportedly confessing to using performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career after apologizing to Livestrong staff, these events seem mostly unrelated. In a statement published on the MLS club's official site, CEO Robb Heineman claims that Sporting KC terminated the deal after Livestrong starting using "aggressive tactics" that "permanently damaged" the club's "faith and trust in the partnership" earlier in the day.
Over the course of the past year, it became clear that LIVESTRONG no longer shared the same spirit of partnership, despite our perseverance to the contrary. We realized at the time this could be the beginning of a tumultuous period for the foundation. We were patient as they sorted through these issues. Despite the distractions, leadership from LIVESTRONG and Sporting Club were actively engaged in discussions to redefine expectations for both parties. Based on assurances from key LIVESTRONG leadership, we believed this ongoing dialogue was very positive.
This morning we were disappointed to learn LIVESTRONG is utilizing aggressive tactics designed to force us into an unsatisfactory arrangement. We willingly admit we were not expecting the foundation to treat a partner in this manner. Even more surprising is that LIVESTRONG would take this action in the midst of a significant transitional phase for their organization.
Our faith and trust in this partnership have been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with LIVESTRONG, effectively immediately. As a result of this decision, our stadium will now be referred to as Sporting Park. While we are ending this relationship, our support of the fight against cancer will endure. We look forward to introducing new initiatives to assist these efforts in Kansas City.
According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, the end of the agreement was actually initiated by Livestrong, though. And Sporting KC were not living up to the financial terms of their deal. From ESPN:
The initiation actually came from the Livestrong foundation, whose 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 say the communication noted that failure to make the foundation whole within two weeks would result in the charity severing the deal.
"While we don't talk about the specifics related to any of our partners, part of my role as the chief financial officer is to ensure compliance by our corporate partners," Livestrong CFO Greg Lee said. "We strive to be great partners ourselves and expect the same from those we do business with. If a partner is struggling to meet the terms of our agreement, we do everything possible to reach a fair and reasonable compromise. If no compromise can be reached, as good stewards or our brand and mission, we have no choice but to bring that agreement to an end."
When the deal was first announced, Heinemann said the club hoped to donate $8-10 million from matchday revenues to Livestrong over the six-year term to help fight cancer. In return, the club hoped to benefit from the connection to the foundation's other major partners. Sporting KC stood by the foundation through the many allegations made against Armstrong, whose name was taken off the foundation's in November.
So was this a disgraced foundation trying to bully a loyal partner or a sports club trying to use a charity for its business connections without keeping up with their donations? Either way, it's a sad end to a historic deal that should've benefited a good cause. On the night the announcement from Sporting KC was made, the sign on their stadium was promptly turned off.
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