The Full 90

Sporting KC leader calls Armstrong controversy 'unfortunate'

Updated: 2013-01-11T23:32:48Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

Announcing the MLS All-Star Game wasn’t the only order of business Sporting Kansas City President and CEO Robb Heineman addressed Thursday.

During a more intimate interview after the All-Star news conference, Heineman talked about the club’s naming rights — not only for the stadium but the team’s jerseys.

There is continuing speculation that Sporting KC may distance itself from Lance Armstrong’s charity, Livestrong, whose name adorns the 19-month-old stadium in Kansas City, Kan.

While he refused to say a change was imminent or even likely, Heineman said the continuing controversy surrounding Armstrong and performance-enhancing drug use was weighing on Sporting Club.

“The thing that’s most important is what goes on in the stadium and the fans that fill it,” Heineman said. “The thing we’re committed to is the vision of what Livestrong’s about, which is helping people afflicted with cancer.”

Sporting KC has always maintained that its partnership was with the cancer-fighting charity — known for its yellow bands and formed by Armstrong, who is a cancer survivor — more than the disgraced cyclist.

The arrangement — Sporting KC is donating $7.5 million over five years to Livestrong — came under intense scrutiny last summer when Armstrong was banned from competition and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concluded he’d orchestrated a sophisticated doping program throughout his career.

“A lot of things around the situation are unfortunate,” Heineman said, “but (changing the stadium sponsor) is something we would think through very carefully and closely before we did anything.”

As for a jersey sponsor to adorn Sporting KC’s uniforms, Heineman is hopeful for an agreement before the season opener March 2 in Philadelphia.

“We’re very close,” he said. “There’s nothing imminent on that either, but I feel very good that we’ll have something on that by the time the season starts.

“For us, it’s been a very deliberate process. There’s very specific things that we want to shirt sponsor to embody. That’s made it tough for us. You can’t always get what you want, but the companies that we’re talking to now fit.”

Signing on with another charity for jersey sponsorship wasn’t an option, Heineman said.

“We want to set a different tone around that,” he said. “Obviously, we did the charitable piece on the stadium, but at some point in this whole thing you have to make some money. It’s easier to do that off commercial sponsorship than off raising ticket prices to fans.”

Heineman said Sporting KC’s ownership group is committed to keeping ticket prices down.

“We have no desire to do that, so we’ve got to build our commercial business to achieve some of those objectives,” Heineman said.

He is hopeful that Sporting KC’s success, which helped manager Peter Vermes’ squad land 13 games on national television for the 2013 season, will help make a jersey sponsorship attractive despite a tough economic climate.

“We used to have to beg to get on national TV four or five years ago,” Heineman said. “Now that we’ve got 13 (games) on various networks, that’s a huge thing and it’s a huge media value obviously for whoever the partner winds up being.”

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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