The Full 90

Sporting KC will not change Livestrong partnership

Updated: 2012-08-24T21:59:11Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

Lance Armstrong’s fund-raising efforts to fight cancer are keeping most of their sponsorships and support, locally and nationally, despite the loss of his record seven Tour de France titles and his ban from cycling.

Sporting Kansas City announced Friday it will not change its partnership with Livestrong, a day after Armstrong said he would no longer fight U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Sporting named its $200 million soccer stadium Livestrong Sporting Park last year as part of a deal that would donate at least $7.5 million in revenue over six years to the foundation, which Armstrong formed.

“The naming rights partnership between our stadium and Livestrong provides an opportunity to spread health and wellness messages that emphasizes the spirit of cancer survivorship,” Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman said in a statement. “Livestrong’s focus is the fight against cancer and the support of 28 million people around the world affected by this disease, and we believe strongly in this mission.

“The statements made last night by the Lance Armstrong Foundation speak for themselves: moving forward and continuing the fight against this horrible disease.”

Also in the Kansas City area, mutual fund company American Century sponsors and will continue to support Livestrong. The company also offers some funds with Livestrong in their name.

Chris Doyle, a spokesman for American Century, said the recent developments were unfortunate, but nothing could be taken way from Armstrong or what he had done for cancer victims around the world.

“It’s a cause that transcends any individual,” Doyle said.

Heineman’s statement is in line with the club’s position when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency initially announced its probe in June — that the partnership is more with Armstrong’s charity than Armstrong himself, though Armstrong was on hand for the stadium’s inaugural game.

Since its inception, Livestrong has raised more the $400 million for the fight against cancer. The organization has a permanent seat at Livestrong Sporting Park — covered in the charity’s iconic bright yellow — that is reserved for a cancer survivor at each game.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes was asked about having the charity’s name on the stadium.

“I don’t think it’s something for me to discuss,” said Vermes, whose first-place team faces the second-place New York Red Bulls on Sunday night at Livestrong. “From my perspective, we’re so focused on the game this weekend that those other things right now aren’t on our radar, if you will.”

Nationally, big-name sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch, Nike and energy nutrition company Honey Stinger said in separate statements that they also planned to continue to support Armstrong and Livestrong.

“Our partnership with Lance remains unchanged,” said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing for Anheuser-Busch. “He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to help cancer survivors and their families.”

Armstrong’s refusal to fight the charges was the best decision he could make for Livestrong, said Columbia University professor Doug White, but he said there could be fallout later.

“Charities have to be above and beyond reproach and since he’s the impediment to the charity, he did the best thing he could do,” said White, 59, who will teach courses in fundraising and ethics this fall. “I think there will be a real fragile period of probably a year where people will have to separate that issue from the good work he is trying to do, and if they can’t do that then the charity is not going to go very far.”

Livestrong Vice Chairman Jeffery Garvey said in a statement that the charity supports Armstrong’s decision to avoid “a biased process.”

“Lance chose to put his family and his foundation first and we support his decision,” Garvey said. “Lance’s contributions to the fight against cancer are invaluable and we look forward to continuing the important work at hand.”

One sponsor that wasn’t on board immediately was bicycle maker Trek. Spokesman Bill Mashek said the company was monitoring recent developments and had made no decisions regarding the future of its business partnership with Armstrong.

Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brand Rapport, said, “This is extremely damaging for cycling and very damaging for the Tour de France. Armstrong has been such a big part of the Tour de France for the past 20 years, and took it to new levels for the American market.”

But Travis Tygart, chief executive of the anti-doping agency, said, “Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance-enhancing drugs. Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case.”

Armstrong, who points out that he has never flunked a drug test, did not admit guilt in saying that he would not seek arbitration of the agency’s accusations. His decision came three days after a federal judge in Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas, rejected the cyclist’s request to block the agency from proceeding with its case.

Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005, a record for the sport’s most prestigious race. He survived testicular cancer early in his career, and created Livestrong.

Star news services contributed to this report

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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